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Medicare

Posted: December 20, 2011 12:22 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2011 5:00 a.m.

With the U.S. budget deficit still spiraling amid partisan stagnation and deadlock in Washington, two lawmakers, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, have finally come together to advance a proposal that would revamp the runaway costs of Medicare. Though solons in the nation’s capital have refused thus far to address entitlement spending -- there’s no way to bring the budget under control without changes to both Medicare and Social Security -- perhaps this is a ray of hope that there are some people in Washington who are willing to work together to salvage the fiscal integrity of the country.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Republican, have advanced a proposal known as premium support. This is the first substantive effort in a long time for members of Congress to cross the aisle to address this major problem. Under terms of the proposal, which are complicated, there would be major structural changes to the runaway costs of Medicare. Those over 65 would find the plan appealing because private plans would compete with traditional Medicare program coverage and would have to provide benefits of the same or greater value. Medicare would subsidize premiums charged by private insurers, and an insurance exchange would be set up for beneficiaries. The growth of Medicare costs would be capped, and in general, spending wouldn’t be allowed to increase more than the growth of the economy plus one percentage point, which is far less than has occurred in the past. High-income beneficiaries could see their premiums rise.

Yes, it’s not a simple plan, but neither is the medical cost situation a simple problem. This is at least a step that could move Congress past the gridlock that has affected it and could possibly stop the endless posturing by both parties to try to make political hay out of Medicare. Unfortunately, one unnamed Democratic Congressional aide told a major newspaper, “This plan gives bipartisan cover to Ryan and other Republicans against whom we have been waging very successful political offensive.” That remark illustrates the horrid mindset that for some, the entire issue is about politics rather than what’s best for the country. Let’s hope that at long last, Congress can ignore that mindset make substantive progress on this issue.

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