My son pointed out to me the other day that George Ryan would be a better pick for Mitt Romney than Paul Ryan. I pointed out that George would be eligible for work release soon, so it would not only be a good pick, but it would also be considered a public service, and possibly Mitt could then deduct any of the cost from his taxes next year. But no. It is Paul.
Although I am a lifelong Democrat, I like to think that I am open-minded enough to consider the thoughts and opinions from both sides, and not just blindly follow a path solely because it was presented by my party. It is with this desire to understand other points of views, that I from time to time will listen to WIND, a conservative radio station here in Chicago. And believe it or not, there are times when I agree with some of the opinions that I hear. Sometimes.
Recently while listening to WIND, I was very interested to hear a discussion about Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare. Between jabs at the President, I kept waiting for the details behind the plan, but alas they never talked about the specifics. So when I got home, I decided to take matters into my own hands and investigate the plan myself. It proved to be a difficult task, because most of the information I found was clouded by opinion from one side of the aisle or the other. I could not get just the facts. So I headed to the source itself. I read the plan directly from Mr. Ryan’s website. All 99 pages of it.
The full title of the document is The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal, and it is not just his plan for Medicare, but an entire budget plan for 2013 and beyond. It is also incredibly repetitive, and could have been edited down by at least a third. The plan starts out by telling you what it is about to tell you, and then continues by reviewing what it just told you, until it is finally ready to tell you what it intended to tell you in the first place. I reached the nuts and bolts of what I was looking for, the details about Medicare, on page 52.
It is true, that the plan does not cause any changes to Medicare for anyone 55 or older, a point that does seem lost in the commercials that use the elderly to drive the opinion that Ryan wants to drastically change Medicare. But for anyone younger than 55, those drastic changes are there. The biggest being that “Medicare will provide a Medicare payment and a list of guaranteed coverage options – including traditional fee-for-service options – from which recipients can choose a plan that best suits their needs.” Or in plain English, instead of Medicare paying the bills, Medicare will be used to make a payment to an approved insurance provider, and that provider will then pay your medical bills. Maybe I am reading it wrong, but for a group that so opposed the “mandate” portion of The Affordable Care Act, it sure does sound like they are going to force people to buy insurance in our retirement years.
This new insurance we will use will come from a newly created Medicare Exchange, and Medicare will “provide a premium-support payment to pay for or offset the premium of the plan chosen by the senior.” Ryan then goes on to compare this new idea with the way members of Congress currently choose their own Health Care. But there is a fundamental difference between the way Congress pays for insurance and the way this plan pays for insurance, and that information is missing from this plan. According to this plan, “the second-least expensive approved plan or fee-for-service Medicare, whichever is least expensive, would establish the benchmark that determines the premium-support amount for the plan chosen by the senior.” But it doesn’t tell you how many plans there will be. “If a senior chose a costlier plan than the benchmark plan, he or she would be responsible for paying the difference between the premium subsidy and the monthly premium.”
Anyone who has had a job knows that many employers offer tiered insurance options, and they also know that the base plan which is the cheapest, is also pretty stripped down. If more health care is needed or desired, you then pay more for the better coverage. I have seen these types of plans, and they usually have three, four, or maybe even five tiers. This seems to be the type of system that Mr. Ryan wants to set up, but once again, it is missing one fact. How many different plans will there be?
Using Mr. Ryan’s own example, I looked up information about health care provided to members of congress and found out that they get between 72 and 75 percent of their insurance premium paid for by their employer, The Federal Government. So in reality, we the tax payers, pay for a majority of Mr. Ryan’s Health Insurance, and that federal employees, not just members of Congress, have about 300 different plans that they can choose from. 300! And he is only willing to give the people who pay 72% of his premium the value of the second-least expensive plan to apply to our own healthcare? Did he choose the second-least expensive plan? One of the most popular plans for members of Congress is the Blue Cross & Blue Shield plan, that had monthly premium of $1,327.80 in 2009, the most recent data that I could locate. Any federal employee that had that plan, would have only paid $430.04 towards that plan. I also have Blue Cross, and I know it is one of the better well-respected plans around. I also would assume it is not going to be even close to the second-least expensive plan on The Medicare Exchange, so that when I retire, if I wanted to just keep the same plan I am already was using, it will probably cost me a whole lot more than $430.04 a month.
Another point that is missing from the Ryan plan is how our current Medicare payment will change because of this reduction in benefits. Are we going to continue to pay the same current tax rate, even though we will not be getting anything close to the same benefits? And there was one more point within The Path to Prosperity that seems to have escaped mention in all this Medicare debate. The changes in Medicare as well as all the changes proposed within Mr. Ryan’s document only work with the assumption that The Affordable Care Act gets repealed. That is one giant leap to make, even if Romney wins the Presidential Election this November. Before any of Ryan’s ideas can be enacted, the Republicans will also need to win a majority in the Senate, and with 21 of the 33 races this year currently in the hands of the blue party, they would need to increase their numbers from 10 to 14 to gain that majority. No, I didn’t miss count. Two seats that are currently up this year belong to independent candidates that have historically voted with the Democratic block, so the Republicans would need to gain four seats to get to a 51 seat majority. That will not be a very easy task, considering that one of the seats currently held by the Republicans once belonged to Ted Kennedy, and it will very likely return to the Democrats in November.
I have never claimed to be a brilliant political mind, but to a layman such as myself, Mr. Ryan’s path seems like nothing more than a dead-end. Even if enacted, there is nothing in the plan that will ensure success. The Congressional Budget Office, a source Ryan uses in his own document, stated that his Medicare plan could lead to the very same consequences that he is trying to prevent, and will certainly lead to reduced access to health care for anyone who can’t afford anything better than the second-least expensive plan.
In this very important election year, this is not the path I will be choosing.