Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Saturday announced that he has selected House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, returning focus to Ryan's plan to alter Medicare, the Wall Street Journal reports (Paletta, Wall Street Journal, 8/11).
Ryan's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal -- which passed the House in March and was approved again in a procedural move in early April -- would transform Medicare from a fee-for-service program to one in which beneficiaries could either purchase coverage on the private market or maintain traditional Medicare coverage.
The proposal also would reduce Medicaid spending and convert the program to a block-grant system, in which states would receive a fixed amount (California Healthline, 4/25).
Romney's Selection of Ryan
Romney's choice of Ryan "accelerates a national debate over a premium support-based overhaul of the Medicare program," according to CQ HealthBeat. Further, it could pave the way for congressional consideration of such a plan next year, should the GOP take over the White House and Congress in November (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 8/11).
Supporters of Ryan's plan say the approach would reduce health care costs by giving Medicare beneficiaries an incentive to purchase low-cost plans while increasing competition among private health plans.
Opponents of the plan -- who call it a "voucher" program -- say the vouchers are not likely to be enough for most beneficiaries to purchase adequate coverage, which would increase out-of-pocket costs (Mascaro, Los Angeles Times, 8/11).
Romney's Stance on Ryan's Proposals
Romney has yet to reveal his stance on many details of Ryan's proposals. Romney on Sunday highlighted Ryan's plan "to make sure we can save Medicare," but did not explicitly say whether he embraced the proposal (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/U-T San Diego, 8/13). A statement on Romney's website says Ryan's latest plan "almost precisely mirror's Mitt's ideas." However, there are some differences between the health care plans, according to National Journal (Sanger-Katz, National Journal, 8/11).
Romney in February released a plan that was similar to Ryan's (Wall Street Journal, 8/11). Romney's plan would allow beneficiaries to choose between using "premium support," which would give Medicare beneficiaries a fixed amount of money to purchase traditional Medicare coverage or a private health plan. Romney said current beneficiaries and those nearing retirement would not be affected by the plan.
Romney unveiled a proposal to increase the Medicare eligibility age beginning in 2022 and offer a new option for beneficiaries to purchase private coverage. Under the proposal, the Medicare eligibility age would increase by one month annually (California Healthline, 5/15).
Democrats Criticize Selection, Medicare Plan
President Obama and other Democrats on Sunday quickly criticized the selection and sought to link Romney to Ryan's "'radical' ideology" on Medicare, the Washington Post reports (Nakamura, Washington Post, 8/12).
In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, Obama's senior campaign adviser David Axelrod called Ryan a "right wing ideologue" and said his proposed Medicare changes would put the program into "a death spiral" (AP/Boston Globe, 8/12).
Axelrod in an interview on ABC's "This Week" said by turning Medicare "into a voucher program ... they're going to shift thousands of dollars onto the backs of seniors" (Nakamura, Washington Post, 8/12). The Obama campaign also released an online video featuring beneficiaries from Florida discussing how Ryan's plan could affect them (Peoples, AP/U-T San Diego, 8/13).
Romney Defends Ryan, Seeks Distance From Medicare Plan
On Sunday, Romney defended Ryan from Democratic accusations that his Medicare plan would destroy the program, The Hill's "Hill Tube" reports. In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Romney said, "There's only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call 'ObamaCare'" (Mali, "Hill Tube," The Hill, 8/12).
While campaigning in North Carolina, Romney commended Ryan's efforts "to make sure we can save Medicare." However, he refrained from embracing the proposal and instead sought to draw a distinction between his policies and Ryan's (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/12). "I have my budget plan, and that's the budget plan we're going to run on," Romney said (Hunt/Thomas, AP/Boston Globe, 8/12).
Ryan To Defend Medicare Plan in Florida
Ryan will travel to central Florida this weekend and likely will face questions on his plans for Medicare, which include allowing beneficiaries to use government-funded vouchers and increasing the eligibility age from 65 to 67.
The state's large population of beneficiaries will scrutinize any changes to the health program, but Ryan's plan would not affect current enrollees or those scheduled for coverage within the next decade (Paletta, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
Ryan's ability to sway older voters could be key to the election. Seniors have proven to be the age group that least supports President Obama. According to a Mason-Dixon poll conducted in Florida in July, 42% of seniors support Obama, compared with 47% who support Romney. Meanwhile, 39% of seniors support the federal health reform law, while 54% oppose it (Campo-Flores, Wall Street Journal, 8/12).