The House Republican Budget Privatizes Medicare, It Doesn’t Means-Test It

At House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s weekly briefing, Brian Beutler asked him about the idea of means-testing Medicare and Hoyer said he’s open to it, but he can’t really say “until we look at specific proposals.”

That seems correct to me, but part of the importance of specifics is underscored by Speaker John Boehner’s earlier remarks about means-testing wherein he described a very radical agenda that would totally eliminate Medicare as if it’s a fee increase on rich seniors:

Pete [Peterson], I love you to death, but I don’t think the taxpayers ought to be paying your Medicare premium. And under Paul Ryan’s plan, what it says is, let’s allow the American people to decide which health care plan fits their needs. And if you’re middle-income, lower income, we are going to pay, just like we do today, for the cost of those premiums. But for people of means, there’s no reason why we should subsidize Pete Peterson’s premium. I’m sorry. He ought to pay the full cost of his premium to be in Medicare.”

The idea that someone as rich as Peterson ought to pay the full cost of his Medicare premium is worth considering (I have some affection for this idea). But “Paul Ryan’s plan”—which is also Boehner’s plan since the Boehner-led House voted for it—wouldn’t lead to Peterson paying the full cost of his Medicare premium. For one thing, Peterson was born in 1926 and part of the political sales job of the plan is to say that people Peterson’s age won’t be affected at all by the cuts and privatization. And then of course there’s the small matter of the privatization!

For the people who would be directly impacted by the House GOP plan, there would be no more Medicare premiums for anyone to pay. Anyone under the age of 55 would be permanently ineligible for the publicly administered single-payer health care plan that we currently call “Medicare” and that presumably would continue to be called “Medicare” for folks like Peterson and Boehner who’d be eligible for it. What people my age would get would be a partial rebate of the private sector health insurance we go buy on the individual market. The value of the rebate would steadily diminish over time, and higher-income seniors would get lower-value rebates than lower-income seniors. Peterson and Boehner, meanwhile, would continue paying the exact same premium schedule but over time would find that more and more health care providers refuse to treat Medicare patients.