MILLER: Bipartisan Medicare breakthrough

Liberal, conservative senators back health care program reform

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The Democratic Party has yet to acknowledge that the clock is ticking for Medicare. If no changes are made, the program’s own actuaries say it will be insolvent in 13 years, or as early as 2016 if the worst-case scenario comes to pass. Until Tuesday, Republicans were alone in proposing a solution, as President Obama and congressional Democrats preferred to demagogue and politicize the issue.

Hoping to break the impasse, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent, joined with Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, in offering a bipartisan Medicare rescue plan. “We can’t save Medicare as we know it, we can only save Medicare if we change it,” said the former Democratic vice presidential candidate. “If we do nothing, Medicare will go broke and take our government down with it.”

The Lieberman-Coburn plan promises $600 billion in savings over 10 years. These result primarily from making those with higher incomes pay higher premiums and more out-of-pocket costs; slowly raising the eligibility age to 67 years; upping all enrollees’ premiums for Part B; streamlining annual deductibles and limiting Medigap coverage. The proposal would increase everyone’s premium costs until beneficiaries are paying a larger share of the program, up to about 35 percent.

“You’ll never control the cost of health care in the country unless you reconnect some of the purchase of that health care with the individual,” said Dr. Coburn, a physician. “We’re putting a little bit of market force in this, but we’re saying everyone gets to share in trying to solve the problem.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, encouraged the effort, telling me on Tuesday that “two senators on opposite sides of the aisle underscore the necessity of doing something serious about entitlement reform.” The Republican leader explained the program is in a deep fiscal hole. “We can put our heads in the sand and ignore that, and keep on kicking the can down the road. Or we can come together - as Sen. Coburn and Sen. Lieberman have with their particular proposal - and try to do something about it,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, rejected the plan outright as “a bad idea.”

The House-passed plan created by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, is certainly more comprehensive, but Lieberman-Coburn represents an important step across partisan lines that ought to entice more moderate Democrats to stop playing political games and start working to keep this program from going belly-up and busting the nation’s budget.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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