Oregon Senator Ron Wyden used to have a sterling reputation for fighting to preserve, and improve, health services for seniors. Now, not so much.
Having partnered with Paul Ryan in 2011 on an approach that would give seniors the option of remaining on traditional Medicare or getting a voucher to buy private insurance, Wyden now is being touted by Mitt Romney as an example of how Ryan reaches across the aisle for bipartisan solutions.
“One of the things I like about Paul Ryan is he’s demonstrated ... an ability to work across the aisle, to find people who have a common purpose, who may disagree on some issues, but find enough common ground to get things done," Romney said. "For instance him coming together with a plan to save Medicare for future generations – no change to current Medicare beneficiaries or people near retirement, but for future beneficiaries, he and Senator Wyden have come together. This is the kind of bipartisanship we need more of, not less.”
This, of course, is bullshit.
Ryan is a Tea Party ideologue, not a moderate who partners with Democrats to find practical ways of solving social problems. Wyden is being used to boost the chance of Romney-Ryan being this country's next President and Vice-President, the scariest words I've written for a long time.
Yesterday Wyden told the Oregonian he's angry with Romney, since the policy paper he co-authored with Ryan doesn't call for eventually converting Medicare to a 100% voucher system where enrollees would buy private insurance which wouldn't guarantee the same benefits Medicare now provides.
Ryan’s proposal to overhaul the health-care program for 50 million elderly Americans, now at the center of the presidential campaign, would fundamentally reorder Medicare in a bid to control outlays that threaten to overwhelm the federal budget.
Where the program now has no limit on how much it spends, with its annual budget determined by the services provided, Ryan proposes to cap spending. He’d offer seniors a fixed amount of money to buy private insurance, which would transform Medicare into a program defined by its contributions, not its benefits.
The idea is that competition among insurers for their business will drive down costs. The proposal has plenty of skeptics, who say it will shift expenses onto seniors.
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has passed budget bills calling for Medicare to be converted into a voucher-based private health insurance plan. Wyden says he opposed those bills, so Romney shouldn't be saying that Wyden agrees with Ryan about how to reform Medicare.
Well, Wyden can complain all he wants, but getting angry isn't going to stop the Romney campaign from continuing to use Wyden as a tool for fooling seniors that they'll fare just fine under a Romney-Ryan administration.
Ooh! "Improperly linked." Mild language like that isn't going to stop Romney and Ryan from continuing to improperly link Wyden to their Medicare-as-we-know-it killing dream from now until election day.
Wyden should appear in campaign ads for Obama where he boldly and strongly denounces the Romney-Ryan voucher plan for Medicare. Wyden has to give up his bipartisan fantasies. Ryan doesn't want to work with him on making Medicare stronger. Ryan wants to use Wyden for his own Tea Party ends: giving big tax breaks to the rich and reducing social services to the middle class.
Last year I wrote a blog post called "Wyden-Ryan Medicare reform plan looks interesting."
I don't have a problem with offering a defined Medicare benefits package through both the current federal program and private insurance plans. This would be an interesting experiment. Conservatives believe that almost always the private sector can provide services better than government can.
OK. Let's see if this is true with Medicare.
If private insurers can offer seniors the same health services for a lower cost, great. I bet they can't, given their much higher administrative costs. But offering Medicare enrollees a choice between a government and private plan doesn't scare my progressive psyche.
However, what's good for Medicare should be equally good for the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). As a condition for going ahead with the Wyden-Ryan plan, Democrats should demand that a public option be added to the Affordable Care Act, as progressives wanted when the legislation was being debated.
What I said made sense to me then. Still does now.
But things have changed politically. Paul Ryan is running for vice-president of the United States. He and Romney are trying to use Ron Wyden as a shield to deflect truthful attacks -- that they want to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher system to buy private insurance.
I'll be eligible for Medicare in a little over a year. I have zero interest in continuing on with the private insurance company, Regence of Oregon, which I've come to know and hate over so many years of double digit rate increases and substantial benefit decreases.
Sure, Romney and Ryan say that their voucher system will only go into effect for those currently 55 or younger. Why, though, if their plan is so great for the country, and for its citizens, should implementation of it be postponed for a decade?
Here's why: it's a terrible deal for those on Medicare.
They know that seniors would reject it if offered to them now. Medicare enrollees like their single-payer government health plan. They don't want to be pushed into private insurance plans (that option already exists under Medicare Advantage, a program that has proven to be more costly than regular Medicare).
So stand up both for today's and tomorrow's seniors, Senator Wyden. Vigorously fight the Romney-Wyden voucher plan. Don't just put out press releases saying how angry you are to be associated with it.