published Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Senate rejects Medicare proposal

by Chris Carroll
Do you support the GOP Medicare proposal?
  • Yes. 33%
  • No. 67%

240 total votes.

Michael Bloomfield is a retired high school English teacher. He’s 63, two years away from federal medical benefits and the time to “sit back in my retirement and fish all day long” in Acworth, Ga.

But when he hears the GOP’s plan for Medicare, he thinks about the kids he taught.

He thinks about their futures.

“Does it really hurt us so much to spend a few dollars in taxes to help them down the line?” he said.

Yes, according to 239 House Republicans led by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who drafted a budget plan that would give Medicare a face-lift like never before.

But not in the Senate, where several Republicans joined Democrats to reject the plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program in 10 years.

The Associated Press reported that several moderate Republicans joined every Democrat present in opposing the stringent House plan. They were Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Tea-party favorite Rand Paul of Kentucky opposed the plan from the right since it doesn’t actually balance and would add trillions of dollars to the U.S. debt.

Republicans faulted Democrats controlling the Senate for failing to offer a plan of their own.

Right now, the government pays medical care costs for seniors covered under Medicare directly to doctors and providers. Instead, Ryan’s blueprint called for the government, starting in 2022, to give future Medicare enrollees — Americans who now are 54 or younger — vouchers to buy private insurance.

Republican leaders stressed that Medicare wouldn’t change for anyone now 55 or older or for 47 million current beneficiaries, including 1 million Tennesseans and 1.2 million Georgians.

Democrats said the GOP plan would “end Medicare as we know it.” They made it the central issue in a special election Tuesday in which Democrats seized a longtime GOP district in western New York, rattling Republicans, the AP reported.

Irv Ginsburg, a 74-year-old Ooltewah resident whose late wife’s cancer bills were fully covered by Medicare, said before the vote last week that he and others in similar situations don’t trust local members of the U.S. congressional delegation.

“What [Republicans] are doing is opening the door to privatization, and for me, that is an utter disaster,” Ginsburg said.

Cost control

Ryan argued that the government cannot fix its fiscal problems without diverting health care costs.

After Social Security, Medicare is the second-largest federal entitlement program in America, and it’s generally known as the primary health insurance option for Americans 65 and older. Medicare cost taxpayers about $480 billion in 2009, according to The New York Times.

Speaking in Chicago, Ryan recently said his plan would empower seniors and provide “less help for the wealthy and more for the poor and the sick,” The Washington Post reported.

GOP news releases often promoted Ryan’s proposal as “the same kinds of plans enjoyed by members of Congress.”

Members of Congress pay 28 percent of their health costs, House Budget Committee spokesman Conor Sweeney wrote in an email.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Medicare recipients now pay about 35 percent of their medical bills.

Under the Ryan plan, seniors would be paying 61 percent of their health care costs in 2022 and 68 percent in 2030, the CBO reported.

The report cited “payment rates for providers, administrative costs and utilization of health care services” as reasons for the potential bump.

“[The] government’s contribution would grow more slowly than health care costs, leaving more for beneficiaries to pay,” the report stated.

President Barack Obama has said his budget plan lowers Medicare spending without major changes to the program, but he hasn’t been specific about how he’ll do that. He recently criticized Republicans for trying to cut the budget at the expense of lower-income residents and senior citizens as they simultaneously ask for tax breaks on “millionaires and billionaires” and corporations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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