It appears that one of the primary reasons Democrats are so tickled by the selection of Congressman Ryan as Governor Romney's vice presidential pick is that "he's known as the 'Kill Medicare!' guy." In 2008, Senator McCain creamed President Obama in the 65+ demographic. With Ryan on the Republican ticket, Obama might have a fighting chance with seniors this year.
That's one assumption. The other assumption is that Ryan (and by extension, Romney -- is that the tail wagging the dog, I see?) really intends to purposefully kill Medicare.
Let's back up. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed Ryan's 2010 budget proposal at Ryan's request. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) summarized that analysis in a white paper, published in April 2011. The analysis isn't pretty, and it's made for a great Democratic talking point.
In 2022, the projected cost of purchasing a Medicare equivalent plan is equal to 35 percent of the median 65-year-old’s income. By 2050 the cost is projected to rise to 68 percent of the median 65-year-old’s income...[The projected payment to buy a Medicare equivalent policy] would be equal to 200 percent of the income of the median 85-year-old.
Looks terrible, right?
Ryan has since revised his budget proposal, both in 2011 and again this year. CBO's most recent analysis, from Q1 2012, is inconclusive. But even the detailed 2011 CBO analysis of Ryan's 2010 budget admits that projections are "highly uncertain, particularly in the longer term." Everybody's crystal ball is on the blink.
That's really the crux of the matter here. Not simply that we can't accurately predict dollar figures ten, twenty, or forty years out, but that we can't accurately predict what our budgetary priorities will be in the future.
If you read the portions of Ryan's FY12 budget proposal that deal with Medicare, it's clear that (on the surface, at least) his intent is to offer a fiscally viable means of continuing Medicare.
[T]his budget will save Medicare for future generations, protecting those in and near retirement from any changes while forging for younger workers a Medicare program modeled on the system of affordable, quality health coverage options now enjoyed by members of Congress.
…This is not a voucher program, but rather a premium-support model. A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost.
Not so terrible, right?
Of course, there's unsubstantiated partisan jabs in the Ryan budget proposal -- specifically the claim that the ACA "raids" Medicare (refuted by PolitiFact.com) -- but that's the job of politicians, to compare and contrast themselves with the other party. But Ryan supporters and dissenters alike ought to read his proposal more closely before making broad statements about his intentions. Same goes for the ACA.
Back to the viability of the budget proposal. If CBO can't make any definitive predictions as to whether this specific plan will succeed or not, I'm wary of anybody on either side of the aisle who claims that they can.
Can we save Medicare, as both sides purport to want to do? Of course! We can do anything if it's important enough in relation to other competing budgetary priorities.
But therein lies the problem. Our priorities as a nation shift as capriciously as those of a four-year-old, and we protest just as loudly when we get what we supposedly wanted and it turns out to be not at all what we wanted. Conversely, we get so wrapped up in opposing what the other guy supposedly stands for that we're blinded to the points on which we agree.
This post is part of a weekly conversation with our Moms Matter 2012 political bloggers. To see the original question and what the other writers have to say, see Should Medicare Be Replaced by Subsidies?
Image via ProgressOhio/Flickr