Top Republicans Don’t Want To Fall On Sword For Paul Ryan’s Medicare Voucher Reforms

Brett Coughlin of Politico Pro is reporting that House Republicans are reportedly divided about the political wisdom of including Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposal to transform Medicare into a voucher program for future retirees in next week’s GOP budget, fearing that voting to significantly alter the program (and potentially alienate senior voters) makes no political sense if the proposal will go nowhere in the Senate:

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Budget Committee chairman, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are on the deficit-cutting side of the debate. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan and House Speaker John Boehner are on the other side of the debate, weighing if voting to carve up the Medicare program — only to see it die in the Senate — is worth the political hit, a senior Senate Republican aide and House Republican chief of staff tell POLITICO. […]

“I see and appreciate where Chairman Ryan — and Majority Leader Cantor — are coming from on this. I also recall the ugly politics in 1995 and 1996,” the Senate Republican aide said. “The challenge is a group of conservative freshmen in the House who are really concerned about the deficit, but who have never had to face a negative reelection campaign.”…Privately, however, Camp is saying — according to the GOP staffers — that he doesn’t see the wisdom in voting on a plan to dismantle Medicare in the House, only to see it die in the Senate.

Coughlin notes that the internal divisions could jeopardize the GOP’s ability to present a unified budget and alienate seniors who have come to depend on the Medicare program. And for good reason. Under Ryan’s plan, new Medicare enrollees would receive an annual voucher they could use to purchase health insurance beginning in 2021. The voucher — which does not keep up with health care costs — would initially be worth an average of $5,900 (in 2010 dollars) and increase to an average of $11,000 in 2010 dollars once all age-groups are phased in.

Seniors, in other words, would pay more. According to this report from CAP, under current law, people with Medicare coverage can expect to pay $2,730 per year ($228 a month) in 2021 for total Part B and Part D premiums. Under Rep. Ryan’s proposal, conversely, new “Medicare enrollees will pay an average of $3,579 for equivalent coverage—a 31 percent increase in their premium for this year.” (See the chart here). As the Congressional Budget has pointed out, “Voucher recipients would probably have to purchase less extensive coverage or pay higher premiums than they would under current law…the federal government would pay [less] for enrollees on a per capita basis, relative to the projections under current law” and “future beneficiaries would probably face higher premiums in the private market for a package of benefits similar to that currently provided by Medicare.”

Republicans have long tried to distance themselves from Ryan’s proposal. Last February, then House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) described the plan as “his,” saying “I know the Democrats are trying to say that it’s the Republican leadership. But they know that’s not the case.” Ryan has even admitted that the proposal has not attracted substantial Republican support. “While I am proud to have 13 House Republicans co-sponsor the legislation, and have been overwhelmed by the support outside the Beltway,” he claimed, “my plan is not the Republican Party’s platform and was never intended to be.”