GOP Congressman: Expanding Single Payer Health Care ‘Is A Great Idea’

While answering constituents’ phone calls on C-SPAN Tuesday morning, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) — who is a member of the influential House Budget Committee — bucked his party’s usual line on public health care entitlements by praising the idea of allowing Americans aged 55 and older to buy into the public Medicare program for seniors.

When the Wisconsin caller asked Ribble about the reform proposal — commonly referred to as a “Medicare buy-in” — for Americans between the ages of 55 and 64, Ribble complimented the idea and asserted that the U.S. must engage in a robust and similarly innovative debate over lowering health care costs:

CALLER: Good morning. For Medicare, why can’t instead of raising the age, let people buy in at 55, at $450 a month, and then go back to $100 [a month], approximately, at 65, and you would have more money put into Medicare, and it would help the small businesses that are insuring the older people?

RIBBLE: Hey Harold, that’s a great idea. Thank you for calling from Wisconsin, I hope it’s not snowing there today. Those are the types of ideas we need to get on the table and start talking about. We recognize that the Medicare program will continue to grow based on sheer demographics of the country aging. There are fewer workers replacing those that are retiring, and so there’s gonna be pressure put on these critical programs. And ideas like yours should have a hearing and voice in the halls of Congress, and I really appreciate you coming up with suggestions like these, because these are the types of debates that have to happen. Thank you for weighing in this morning.

The $450 per month the caller suggests that individuals between 55 and 64 buying into Medicare should pay is a monthly premium that would go towards funding Medicare Part B, which is the supplemental medical insurance that covers beneficiaries’ doctors’ fees, outpatient hospital visits, and various other non-prescription drug benefits. Under the caller’s plan, that premium would eventually be reduced to the standard Medicare Part B insurance premium for Medicare beneficiaries who are 65 and over, which is about $105 per month in 2013. Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, as well as hospice services and nursing care, and does not require the vast majority of seniors to pay any premium.

While the proposal is obviously just a rough sketch, it does represent a far more progressive vision for reforming entitlements and lowering health care spending than smokescreen strategies to shift costs onto consumers such as GOP proposals to raise the Medicare eligibility age — and it could substantially lower both older Americans’ premiums and employers’ health care cost obligations to their older workers.

Ribble’s apparent endorsement of the idea comes as a surprise, as he conspicuously states on his congressional website that he voted to repeal Obamacare and obstruct several of its funding measures — although he does admit to supporting certain reform elements in the landmark health law. Nonetheless, Ribble’s comments this morning set him apart from a significant swath of the Republican Party and conservative advocates of more “free-market” approaches to health care reform that curtail, rather than expand, public insurance pools like Medicare.