COMMENTARY | Since Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin became Mitt Romney’s running mate last Saturday, his controversial “Path to Prosperity” budget plan has risen to national prominence.
While his tax plans have been headline news, an overlooked aspect of this choice is how Ryan’s planned reworking of Medicare will impact the race for Florida and its crucial 29 electoral votes.
Democrats have worked tirelessly to promote Ryan’s plan as the “end of Medicare as we know it.” The GOP is rightly concerned about the Ryan pick, as Politico explains, but their recent attacks hint of the desperation Romney recently blasted the Obama administration for.
The Republican National Committee Chair accused the Affordable Care Act of stealing $716 billion from Medicare, while John H. Sununu, Romney’s campaign chairman, tried shouting CNN’s Soledad O’Brien into joining the attack on Tuesday.
But, as O’Brien pointed out, the Ryan budget plan has the same cuts to Medicare that Obamacare does sans the explicit plan to reinvest the money into strengthening and expanding the program.
Florida’s large 60-plus population makes senior citizens the Sunshine State’s largest voting bloc. This could turn Path to Prosperity and its perceived assault on Medicare’s future into a potential albatross to the Romney-Ryan efforts there.
The Ryan budget plan mirrors the Affordable Care Act from 2013-22, meaning that little will change initially for today’s Medicare beneficiaries. But Ryan’s budget misses the proverbial left turn at Albuquerque for anyone currently 54 and under after that.
Starting in 2023, Medicare would be transformed into a voucher program. In a nutshell, this would give seniors a set amount of money to purchase private insurance or traditional Medicare.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, this will eventually cripple Medicare plans as a low-cost alternative to private coverage. This is because the voucher value doesn’t match rising medical costs, which will inevitably make Medicare premiums rise to meet them.
Healthier beneficiaries would be favored by private insurers because of their cheaper coverage costs. Meanwhile, the bulk of Medicare beneficiaries would be very ill patients which are more costly to insure.
And although it’s not clearly articulated in the 2012 rendition of the Ryan budget, his 2011 plan wanted to prevent Medicare beneficiaries from getting additional benefits from Medicaid.
The result would be private insurers having a leg up on traditional Medicare providers because of drastically lower costs. So while the Ryan plan would slash federal expenditure on Medicare, it would do so at the risk of privatizing the system, and giving the healthcare industry unimpeded control medical costs.
Romney’s best bet is to avoid his longstanding excommunication of specifics for this issue. Because criticism of Obamacare alone won’t make Path to Prosperity’s plans to privatize Medicare and potentially cripple it the more palatable alternative for a state full of Medicare beneficiaries.