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MILLER: Dare to Mediscare

Conservatives offer bold entitlement solution in an election year

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2012

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that nothing significant will be done until after the November election. As the country racks up debt at a pace faster than ever in history, a few lawmakers refuse to just sit back, avoiding controversy. They want to tackle the biggest driver of red ink, Medicare, and do it this year.

"We are not willing to wait until after the next election to fix entitlements," said freshman Sen. Rand Paul in announcing his legislation on Thursday. The Kentucky Republican was joined by his Republican cosponsors Sen. Jim DeMint and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both of South Carolina, and fellow freshman Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Their proposal would give seniors access to the same health care plans as members of Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called any reform an attempt to "end the Medicare guarantee" and let the health care program "wither on the vine." While Democrats use "Mediscare" tactics to block worthy efforts to tackle this crisis, they could be disarmed with better public relations. "The president and Harry Reid have been licking their chops for over three years waiting for Republicans to actually try to deal with the large problems like Medicare," said Mr. DeMint. "But I think if Americans find out the truth about what we're doing, it will be a very big positive for Republicans in the fall."

Dr. Paul's bill would shutter the current overpriced and underserved Medicare system that is on a path to go bankrupt in only eight years. In its place, seniors will have better quality health care for less cost by choosing among the 250 health insurance plans that federal employees now use. The average senior would have three-quarters of his premium subsidized by the government and save $1,500 a year in out-of-pocket costs.

Competition and choice will bring down costs, as will slowly raising the eligibility age to 70 over 20 years. The Medicare Board of Trustees reported that the current program has unfunded liabilities of $37 trillion over a 75-year window. This bill would lower the trajectory of projected costs enough to cut that liability by almost half, $16 trillion. It would also save $1 trillion over the first 10 years in reduced costs.

Last year, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan proposed the concept of premium support, which encourages competition by providing vouchers for seniors to apply to a choice of private plans. Democrats launched an all-out attack on Mr. Ryan, hoping that would end any debate in Washington on entitlement reform. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposed a more politically palatable version offering individuals a choice of a voucher or remaining in the current Medicare system.

Unlike Mr. Romney's and Mr. Ryan's plans, this GOP reform does actually end Medicare as we know it, and that's a good thing. By giving seniors preset and pre-screened options, it removes much of the fear of being forced to find their own plans in the marketplace. Giving the public access to their same gold-standard plans takes away the fear of diminished quality. As Mr. Graham said, "If it's good enough for your senator, it's good enough for you."

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

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