Medicare is considered an entitlement because most Americans get Medicare part A (the part that covers hospitalization) for free when they turn 65 years old. Medicare part B (the part that covers doctor visits) is usually a companion of part A, but seniors pay a monthly premium for their Medicare part B. Medicare part D (the part that covers prescription medications) also requires a monthly premium payment, but all of the Medicare plans do a good job at making healthcare costs affordable for seniors and disabled people.
Medicare is financially unstable and headed for disaster. It is estimated that the fund that pays for the part A benefits will be drained by 2028, and costs for Medicare part D will double by the end of 2016. The government is either going to have to open up new revenue streams for Medicare, or pass the increases in costs on to seniors. Neither of those solutions are politically popular with Democrats or the public.
The problem with Medicare is that the population is aging rapidly, and healthcare costs continue to increase. The Baby Boomer generation is now reaching Medicare age, and that would add millions of people to an already overwhelmed system. With healthcare costs, especially for prescription medication, expected to skyrocket, many Republicans are afraid that Medicare could be in trouble. But Donald Trump has vowed to save Medicare, make it solvent and make sure it is there for the people who need it.
Several members of the GOP have said that their goal is to save Medicare and not allow it to become inaccessible to seniors. Donald Trump himself has even said that he wants to not only save Medicare, but make it more robust for the people who rely on it.
The problem is that Trump has not released any specific plans to save Medicare, while Republicans such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have put out plans that fly in the face of what Trump is saying. Experts such as C. Eugene Steuerle writing in Forbes Magazine have indicated that Trump seems to have options when it comes to Medicare, but he has not created any plan. The lack of a plan from Trump makes people wonder if the GOP will use Ryan’s plan to help save Medicare.
Paul Ryan’s Plan
Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare would transition the health plan away from being an entitlement and move it more towards operating like standard health insurance. Ryan wants to offer seniors a voucher each year that they can use towards the purchase of any health insurance plan they like. Medicare would be put on a marketplace just like the ACA, and seniors could use their voucher for Medicare or any other insurance plan they want.
This plan would strip seniors of their automatic eligibility for Medicare and force seniors to shop for health insurance among the myriad of options. It is expected that the vouchers would go up in value each year based on the rate of inflation and not the rate of the rising costs of health insurance, which would force seniors to bear the burden of health insurance cost increases. It is a plan that has many people in both parties up in arms, and it something that the Democrats see as an opportunity.
The Democratic Response
The Democrats are going full speed ahead with the idea that the GOP’s plan for Medicare would be Ryan’s plan. The Democrats will point out that Ryan has also proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 66 years old up to 69 or 70 years old. Ryan also intends to use the Republican majority in the House and Senate to repeal many of the measures in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that affect Medicare. It is estimated that the ACA is the reason that Medicare part A is viable until 2028, instead of the estimate of 2017 that existed before the ACA was made into law.
The Democrats are going on the warpath and they are going to use their Granny ads from 2011 that started airing when Paul Ryan’s plan was originally introduced. The Democrats said they intend to bring Granny back and use the images of a Republican in a business suit kicking Granny over a cliff as she sits in her wheelchair to drive the point home that Ryan wants to take Medicare from seniors.
Can the GOP save Medicare? It appears that the GOP wants to make Medicare into the exact kind of marketplace program that the Republicans claim to hate so much in the ACA. It is true that Medicare is in financial trouble and something needs to be done to stabilize Medicare. But the Democrats have not offered a plan to actually stabilize Medicare that they can use to combat Ryan’s plan. Without a plan of their own, the Democrats may have to concede that Medicare will be saved the Republican way and it is anyone’s guess as to how that will work.