- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan pushed back Wednesday against critics eager to cast the result of Tuesday’s special election in New York as a stiff rebuke of his plan to curb the cost of Medicare.

Democrats have trumpeted the surprise win of Kathy Hochul over Republican Jane Corwin in the special election in a strongly Republican district, citing Ms. Corwin’s endorsement of the Ryan Medicare proposal as crucial to her loss.

The Wisconsin Republicans rejected that notion in a video released Wednesday morning, saying that “Washington has not been honest with you about Medicare” and “the truth is it’s headed for a painful collapse.”

“We can no longer let politicians in Washington deny the danger to Medicare — the danger is all too real, and the health of our nation’s seniors is far too important,” Mr. Ryan says. “We have to save Medicare to avoid disruptions in benefits for current seniors, and to strengthen the program for future generations.”

Democrats wasted no time in saying the New York results were a referendum on the House GOP plan, and vowed to use the same template throughout the 2012 election cycle.

Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Committee, said Wednesday that Democrats had “served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare.”

“The American people will continue to hold House Republicans accountable for their plan to end Medicare from now until election day 2012,” he said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer echoed that sentiment in an email blast to supporters, saying the GOP plan would force millions of seniors to pay more for prescription drugs.

“Democrats understand that we have to do more to get our debt under control, but the responsible answer is not to use the threat of debt to radically change programs like Medicare,” the Maryland Democrat said.

The loss in New York is sure to serve as a gut check for the GOP’s support of the Ryan plan — especially as the 2012 campaign season heats up. The result came a day after two Republican senators — Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Susan Collins of Maine — said they would oppose the House GOP plan if it comes up on the Senate floor for a vote this week.

But, in his video, Mr. Ryan, seen by many as a rising GOP star who some still hope will consider a presidential bid, showed no signs of backing back down.

Armed with digital charts and graphs, he claimed that his plan would rescue Medicare and reduce its future cost for taxpayers, all while helping the federal government get its financial house in order.

“We can save Medicare, but we have to reform it so that it delivers the high quality we expect, at a price we can afford,” he says.

The current fee-for-service system, which serves about 75 percent of Medicare recipients, or 35 million Americans, increases costs and decreases quality, he said, by hiding the true expense of service from patients and reducing competition between doctors and hospitals.

“It reimburses all doctors and hospitals the same, even if the quality of the care they provide is poor, and the cost of their care is high,” he said. “Meaning that there is little financial incentive for doctors and hospitals to deliver the best care at the lowest price.”

He also argues that President Obama’s proposed spending plan is misguided because it depends on a panel of “15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats” to decide how much doctors get paid for providing Medicare services and which services are covered under the plan. These price controls don’t work, he says, because they “encourage more consumption, and they force doctors to charge their non-Medicare patients more,”

“That pushes costs up, not down,” he said.

Under the Ryan plan, Republican say the system would remain untouched for Americans 55 years old or older, while those entering the elderly care system after that would receive a subsidy from the federal government to help them cover the cost of private health insurance.

“Rather than putting the government in charge, our plan provides financial support to help future Medicare patients pay for the insurance plan that works best for them and their families,” Mr. Ryan said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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