It was only a matter of time before the high that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was on came down to Earth. Unfortunately for him and all others fighting for entitlement reform, it happened because of his proposal for Medicare. It may have resulted in Republicans losing New York’s 26th district in a special election on Tuesday to Kathy Hochul (D-NY), who was particularly enthusiastic in her attacks on her rival’s support for the Ryan plan.
Ryan, who enjoys (enjoyed?) considerable clout as chair of the House Budget Committee, would have everyone under 55 buy private insurance, with a federal subsidy for those who would need help affording the cost of premiums. This would not be retroactive; anyone 55 or over would operate under existing Medicare, although a poll circulated among Republicans suggests 46 percent believe those people’s benefits would be reduced. If Ryan is going to stick with this, a town hall meeting or five might be in order, just to clear this up.
Hilariously, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is an opponent of the plan: “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a good way for a free society to operate.” Now he tells us. He has since “apologized” to Ryan, while standing by his position. Newt? You don’t have to apologize for speaking your mind, especially if you haven’t changed it. Feel free to brush off the young whippersnapper.
Ryan is certainly right when he says there needs to be a serious dialogue on keeping Medicare solvent. This is only one step in that dialogue; he proposed something a lot of people find objectionable, and now they can move on to something else. Just going by the broad strokes of his proposal, there seems to be no way to determine how much they’ll have to budget for subsidies, nor a way to safeguard against subsidy abuse. I’m going to assume he’s satisfied with any regulations on private insurers.
I have encouraged lawmakers to allow people to opt out of Medicare if they have sufficient private insurance and/or savings. Consider this case, in which some seeking to opt out ran up against a law that would cut off their Social Security benefits. If we start off with a total cost for covering everybody, and enough people refuse the coverage, any combination of Medicare and Social Security should be permitted.
Anyone who starts off with a big vision gets a point in my book, but they have to be willing to alter it. If Ryan can do this, he’ll survive.