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Medicare Makes a Comeback on the Campaign Trail


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With the addition of House Budget Committee Chairmen Paul Ryan to the GOP presidential ticket, Medicare is now quickly becoming a dominant campaign issue. In 2011, Medicare covered 48.7 million people: 40.4 million aged 65 and older, and 8.3 million disabled. More than 435,000 of those beneficiaries are Kansans. The core of the debate is about which side is trying to take Medicare away. The fact is, Medicare is already on the path to insolvency. According to our independent and bipartisan panel of Medicare Trustees in their 2012 report, if we do nothing, Medicare will go bankrupt by 2024--that's only 12 years from now. So if we have to pick which plan is better, let us look at our options.

Not only do the Democrats and the administration have no plan to preserve Medicare beyond its anticipated bankruptcy in 12 years, thanks to the new healthcare law, it takes money away from seniors today. Under this scenario, our grandparents are at risk of facing a 26% benefit cut or 47% tax increase, according to the Medicare Trustees' report. How can this be? Instead of fixing Medicare, President Obama took more than $716 billion (according to the Congressional Budget Office) from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. This is not hard to understand. The administration had to show that their health care law did not cost anything and would be revenue neutral, but you cannot have money in the Medicare trust fund and pay for the new health care law at the same time. It simply is not possible to have the same money in two different places at once.

In comparison, Ryan co-authored a bipartisan plan with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon. Not only does the Wyden-Ryan planhave zero impact on those 55 and older, but it preserves and protects Medicare for future generations. It does not affect current retirees or those near retirement age--those that are 55 years and older--and it is a guaranteed benefit that preserves traditional Medicare as an option. Beginning in 2022, for those who are currently 54 or younger, when they reach retirement age, a new Medicare program would offer them a choice between staying with the traditional Medicare plan or a Medicare-approved plan similar to coverage offered to members of Congress. Any private plan that wishes to participate in this new program must at least provide benefits in line with the traditional fee-for-service Medicare, and the traditional program would be strengthened so that it can effectively compete in the new marketplace. According to Wyden and Ryan, this reformed Medicare program will include the toughest consumer protections in American government. To pay for these enhancements, the retirement age would be gradually raised by two years, and benefits would be slowly phased out to high-income earners.

Medicare is a vital program and we need to make sure that it is around for future generations. There is only one option that protects Medicare tomorrow and does not take benefits away from seniors today. That is the Wyden-Ryan plan, and that is the plan I support.

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