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MILLER: Republican Medicare courage

Presidential hopefuls back privatized health care options for the elderly

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Despite a national debt just shy of $15 trillion, President Obama refuses to put forth a substantive proposal tackling the single largest source of red ink: Medicare. Democrats prefer to use this program as a political club to scare the elderly and keep hold on power. Luckily, the potential future occupants of the White House in the GOP have shown political courage. They've rallied behind a common set of principles that would shore up the health care program for seniors.

Most Americans understand the problem. According to a Rasmussen poll released on Tuesday, only 33 percent are confident that they will ever see the benefits they've been promised. The worry is well founded, as the program's own trustees have said that it will be totally bankrupt in 13 years.

To address the imminent crisis, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced Friday that he would introduce private-sector competition. His idea is similar to, but less audacious than, the House Republican plan drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Mr. Ryan would slowly move those under 55 years old into a premium-support system so that they could pick their own insurance plans. Mr. Romney would offer the same choices to future seniors, but he would also add an option of buying into the existing, government-run system. Seniors would receive a set amount (determined by means) to spend on health insurance premiums.

Mr. Romney is looking to blunt the predictable Democratic Mediscare attack. He realizes that market forces would likely make the bureaucratic government option more costly, driving most to private plans to save money. Mr. Romney would also gradually raise the eligibility age to shore up the program.

Newt Gingrich had already put forth virtually the same plan of optional premium support. The former House speaker is so confident that Americans would opt for Ryan plan that he said in a debate on Saturday with Herman Cain he would be "happy to try it out next year."

The former Godfather's Pizza CEO added that Mr. Ryan's plan mirrors the private-sector transition from defined benefit to defined contribution plans and that "ownership of those dollars will cause people to spend it more responsibly."

Rick Perry is less specific, offering support for some type of private option though premium-support payments or a credit. The Texas governor also backs increasing the eligibility age and means testing. The moderate in the field, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, endorsed the Ryan plan in the spring.

While Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann voted for the House budget, she seemed to back off support of the Medicare reform proposals in later statements. Texas Rep. Ron Paul voted against the Ryan budget, saying it did not go far enough.

House Republicans laid the foundation by boldly proclaiming the need to fix Medicare. This paved the way for the Republican presidential candidates to publicly support the concept. This is a remarkable achievement. The winner of the November 2012 election needs to be the leader who understands this crisis must be addressed now.

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

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