Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced Thursday a bipartisan reform plan for Medicare. The plan would give seniors the option to receive a voucher to enter the private healthcare market, but Medicare would remain an option as well.
“Before the partisan attacks begin to escalate and the 2012 election ads start to air, we are outlining a plan for how Democrats and Republicans can work together to ensure that American retirees – now and forever – have quality, affordable health insurance,” Ryan and Wyden wrote in their 12-page report introducing the plan.
Under the plan, beginning in 2022, seniors would have the option to enroll in Medicare or receive “premium support” to purchase insurance through a Medicare-approved private plan.
Ryan and Wyden expect that the competition introduced by private health insurers would bring down the cost of the program. The bill would also cap the growth of Medicare in the event that costs continue to escalate.
Medicare is the single most expensive federal program and the fastest growing part of the federal budget. It cost $480 billion in fiscal year 2011, which was 3.2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). With no changes, Medicare is expected to consume 5.5 percent of GDP by 2035, according to a Medicare trustee's report.
The Ryan-Wyden plan is similar to a plan offered by Ryan earlier this year. Ryan's earlier plan would not have kept the current Medicare system in place. That plan was widely criticized by Democrats for “ending Medicare.”
Wyden has a long history of seeking bipartisan solutions to the rising costs of healthcare. In 2009, he worked with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) on a bipartisan health care reform plan that has some similarities to the Ryan-Wyden plan. Bennett lost his primary election in 2010 to a Tea Party backed candidate, because, in part, of the Wyden-Bennett plan. He was viewed as being too willing to negotiate with Democrats.
The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal came out in favor of the Ryan-Wyden plan on Thursday, arguing, “This is an important moment because it shows that the serious entitlement debate is taking place within the camp of choice and incentives, not the Obama status quo.”
The Ryan-Wyden plan is similar to that of presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. It also received praise from presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
“Ron Wyden & Paul Ryan deserve credit for having the courage to work across party lines on a very difficult large challenge,” Gingrich wrote on his Twitter feed Thursday.