Carol Shea-Porter: The Truth About Medicare

The Truth about Medicare

Republicans and Democrats have been all over television and radio, and giving speeches all over the country, talking about the Ryan plan for Medicare. The Ryan plan turns Medicare into a voucher plan. Democrats say a voucher plan is an awful idea, leaving senior citizens financially vulnerable when they are most likely to need medical care. Republicans insist that it will give people more choices, as they can shop around for a plan. To complicate matters, Republicans also claim that Democrats cut billions from Medicare in the Affordable Care Act. First they claimed Democrats cut $500 billion, and now they have upped the claim to $716 billion. All this leaves senior citizens, their families, and those who will someday be senior citizens wondering what exactly are the facts.

First, we need to discuss the Ryan plan for Medicare. The Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it. It would provide a flat premium support payment, a voucher, that senior citizens would use to shop around to buy private insurance or Medicare. This would intentionally undermine Medicare, since the private plans would take the healthiest away and leave Medicare with the most expensive, least healthy seniors, making it too hard to compete. Even worse, the Ryan plan ties any voucher to the growth rate of the gross domestic product (called GDP) per capita plus one-half percentage point. It would cost them thousands more out-of-pocket each year, using this formula.

If your eyes are rolling already, just consider this. Health care costs grow faster than the GDP, so seniors would have to make up the difference. They also would be responsible, along with the insurance companies, to pay the bills. Medicare currently is a remarkably easy and efficient program. Older people do not have to submit their paperwork to Medicare. When people are not feeling well, it is extremely difficult to keep track of paperwork, so this is a blessing. Also, Medicare has about a 3-7 percent overhead, so it is very efficient, which helps to hold costs down. All this would change with the Ryan plan. This is truly a terrible deal for older people in this country, and they should reject it.

As for the Republican claim that President Obama and the Congressional Democrats "robbed" $716 billion, this is an outrageous claim. That $716 billion is just savings from the program, and not one dollar is taken from seniors or traditional Medicare. That savings, a good effort to control costs, comes from several sources. The Affordable Care Act addresses the difference in costs for traditional Medicare vs. private Medicare Advantage plans. Private Medicare Advantage plans were costing the taxpayers 14 percent more than traditional Medicare. That was stopped, and will save a lot of money. The Affordable Care Act also instituted administrative savings. Everyone should be happy that money is saved. Here is the kicker though. Paul Ryan's own Budget includes that savings—they just don't return it to the Medicare program.

This has been a difficult few years, and another ugly campaign season is here. The stakes are high, and every vote counts. But we should not drag our elders into the fight, try to alarm or confuse them, or use them like pawns. We should be better than that. Just in case though, I recommend that people go to ( and look for themselves, because knowledge really is power.