Taking turns at Mediscare

Apparently, it's the Democrats' turn to scare the daylights out of seniors.

One year after Republicans made some hay out of the $500 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years that were part of ObamaCare, the Dems have claimed a New York congressional seat with the help of an ad that shows a Paul Ryan-like character dumping a wheelchair-bound granny off the cliff.

The Wisconsin congressman, of course, is one of several people who have the maracas to reform Medicare, the popular health insurance program for the elderly that, itself, is headed for a financial cliff.

One of the reasons I haven't been overly critical of ObamaCare is that it at least attempts to get Medicare costs under control. The fact that Republicans are apparently backpedaling on Medicare reform is testimony to people's short memories.

When you compare the Obama approach to Ryan's, I think Republicans should be embracing the Wisconsin congressman's approach. Whereas ObamaCare cuts $500 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years, Ryan doesn't touch it for 10 years in deference to people who are near retirement.

After that, he employs means testing. The wealthiest Americans would not receive their full complement of benefits (that's where Ryan is actually cutting), while the program grows year-by-year, at about the rate of inflation, for the rest of us.

After the first 10 years, Ryan also allows Medicare recipients to take a pot of money (roughly the amount the government spends annually on Medicare per person) and shop for insurance in a free market. The congressman believes that would hold down costs because providers would have to compete for people's business and would lose market share if their pricing is out of whack. He has some ammunition to back up that contention (see the Medicare prescription drug program).

While Ryan trusts seniors to be the savvy consumers they are (there should be a default choice for seniors who can't make these decisions for themselves), ObamaCare places much of the Medicare decision-making in the hands of an advisory board. Who would you rather have making these judgments – health care consumers and their physicians, or a group of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., who know nothing about your individual health circumstances?

When you think about it, it's the proponents of ObamaCare who are taking the bigger short-term risk. That is, they would be if anyone in the GOP besides Ryan had the brains to explain these differences. Perhaps the congressman should call members of his party, and prospective 2012 candidates, to a retreat where he could deliver his version of "Medicare Reform 101: How to explain this to voters and not look like profiles in cowardice."

Ryan's plan and the approach taken in the new health care law aren't the only reforms out there. The President's own bipartisan debt commission recommended a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, and other GOP plans would cut more aggressively, and sooner, than Ryan's.

So the encouraging news is there finally are serious attempts to head off a debt crisis. You'd never know it based on the sheer stupidity of certain campaign advertising, so perhaps there is an opportunity for a TV ad that tells us a truth that even politicians, no matter what they say rhetorically, now accept as fact. That truth is that Medicare and other entitlements are going broke, and either we face up to it now while the remedies are far less painful, or wait until we are forced into something truly draconian.

At that point, we'll have nobody but ourselves to blame.

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