Despite polls showing voter displeasure with Congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare with vouchers seniors could use to purchase private insurance on the free market, Republicans continue to support the program. Following passage in the House, many Senate Republicans also voted for the bill. If they had control of both houses of Congress, they would have ended Medicare as we know it. Indeed, we would now be hoping that Republicans could not muster enough votes to over-ride an almost certain presidential veto.
The Ryan plan is based on the assumption that Medicare and Medicaid are no longer sustainable. Economist Paul Krugman dismisses that argument as nonsense. In a recent article on his blog Economist’s View, Krugman writes, “Yes, Medicare has to get serious about cost control; it has to start saying no to expensive procedures with little or no medical benefits, it has to change the way it pays doctors and hospitals, and so on. And a number of reforms of that kind are … included in the Affordable Care Act. But with these changes it should be entirely possible to maintain a system that provides all older Americans with guaranteed essential health care.”
“Consider Canada,” he continues. “While Canadian health care isn’t perfect, it’s not bad. Canadian Medicare … looks sustainable; why can’t we do the same thing here?”
One way to help sustain Medicare is to empower Medicare to negotiate the cost of pharmaceuticals in the same way Walmart negotiates the price of the products it sells. It’s estimated that could save as much as $156 billion over the next decade bringing the cost of our pharmaceuticals in line with those in Canada and other countries.
But Republicans refuse to consider the idea. Instead of tinkering with Medicare, they’d rather kill it altogether. Of course, Republicans challenge the assertion. In a letter to a TV station, the Republican Congressional Committee demanded that the station stop running an ad stating that the Ryan plan would end Medicare. The letter insisted the plan would simply install a “new, sustainable version of Medicare.”
But Ryan’s Vouchercare is not Medicare.
Indeed, the Ryan plan points to one of the most significant differences between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans want to reduce benefits. Democrats, on the other hand, want to reduce costs to make Medicare and Medicaid even more efficient than they already are.
It’s a conflict that will likely continue all the way through the 2012 elections.