What others say: Cutting through the spin on Paul Ryan and Medicare

Published: Friday, Aug. 17 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

J. Scott Applewhite, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The following editorial appeared recently in the Dallas Morning News:

Paul Ryan, as you no doubt have heard, wants "to end Medicare as we know it." He wants to steal Medicare money and give tax breaks to the rich. And by choosing Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney endorses a plan to yank the health care safety net from beneath seniors, leaving them to die in penniless misery.

No, no, no, Republicans argue back. How can Romney-Ryan kill Medicare when President Barack Obama is already "gutting" it? He wants to whack $700 billion from Medicare to fund his health-care reform, leaving seniors to die in penniless misery.

Oh, yeah? (More spin here.)

Oh, yeah? (Angry rebuttal spin here.)

Be patient, voters. As you can tell, we Americans are fairly out of practice at rational, reasonable debate over an issue that truly affects everyone's future. Medicare, as one of the big three federal entitlements, with Medicaid and Social Security, certainly is that.

Even as annual deficits pile accumulated debt ever higher, Medicare costs continue to chew up the federal budget. Predictions of its solvency disappearing by 2024 or earlier are increasingly common and no longer thought alarmist.

At least we're talking about big things, passionately if not always straightforwardly. Pretending the problem doesn't exist obviously doesn't make it go away.

And both sides know it. So here's a bit of unspinning:

The Democrats' plan does reduce future growth in Medicare spending by about $700 billion to help fund other parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Obama plan places greater emphasis on government oversight to hold down future costs, particularly in restricting payments to doctors and hospitals.

The Ryan plan, as revealed in his two latest House-passed budgets, effectively accepts the Obamacare cuts. The difference is how his plan goes after that reduced Medicare spending. Ryan would emphasize private-sector competition, placing his faith in the free market over government regulation.

Importantly, Ryan revised his 2013 budget with a key improvement. Instead of phasing out government-run Medicare, he now offers future recipients younger than 55 a choice: a voucher to buy private insurance or today's Medicare. The vouchers, whose rate would be set by a bidding process, would cover government-approved plans; if voucher holders want a more expensive plan, they would pay the extra.

Romney, the actual presidential candidate, throws a wrinkle by insisting that his Medicare plan is not precisely Ryan's. Both are committed to repealing Obamacare, but the Romney campaign says it would not preserve the Obamacare-driven cuts, as the Ryan plan would.

Clear now? Give it some time. We have conventions and debates and more than two months of study time ahead. Make use of it. Doing nothing really isn't an option.

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