White House hits Medicare privatization scheme

The White House has joined a national chorus of protests against the so-called bi-partisan Ryan-Wyden plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system.

The plan makes Medicare into a "subsidy" system where recipients "choose" from among private insurers and then get "subsidies" to help pay the bills.

Yesterday, Washington state's Democratic senator Ron Wyden, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., announced that they were teaming up to back a bill that would turn Medicare into a voucher plan by 2022.

The Obama administration has already added its voice to the growing chorus of opposition coming from all over the country. The White House called the Ryan-Wyden proposal a new plan based on Newt Gingrich's old ideas.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the plan "would end Medicare as we know it for millions of seniors.

"The Wyden-Ryan scheme could, over time, cause the traditional Medicare program to 'wither on the vine,' because it would raise premiums, forcing many seniors to leave traditional Medicare and join private plans."

Supporters of the so-called bi-partisan plan claim they are applying the logic of health care reform with the new proposal. Namely, Medicare becomes a subsidy system with people choosing their private insurer. Opponents note that the logic of reform is to move in the other direction, with the current reforms eventually evolving into a single-payer system.

Opponents see Wyden's support for the new Ryan plan as dangerous. Some say Wyden has come to the rescue for Ryan by giving him a way to soften his image as a hardcore right-winger and appear more reasonable. Polls show that Ryan's right-wing image is making his re-election effort very difficult, even in a conservative Wisconsin district.

Supporters of Medicare note that GOP claims to support choice for patients are not valid reasons to oppose the program.

The advantages of choice in health care relate less to choice of insurance plans, they note, than to choice of care providers, which traditional Medicare now provides. It is the private plans, they note, that are often the most restrictive when it comes to choosing a provider.

Private plans are no match for Medicare, they add, when it comes also to improving quality of care and cost reduction. This is because Medicare's size gives it the strength that no private plan can match to push for changes in the system that will result in better quality and lower costs.

Opponents of private plans note that you can never make projections about how much they will save in dollars, but you can always predict that, when it comes to costs, they will be shifted to the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

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