Bipartisanship breaks out? Wyden-Ryan Plan on Medicare Reform

Today, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Paul Ryan released a new Medicare reform plan that focuses on competition between private plans and traditional Medicare, built around competitive regional bidding and an insurance exchange for seniors.

Here's a link to the Wall Street Journal op-ed explaining the plan, along with links to additional commentary from around the Web:

A Bipartisan Way Forward on Medicare
Ron Wyden and Paul Ryan, Wall Street Journal

Our plan would strengthen traditional Medicare by permanently maintaining it as a guaranteed and viable option for all of our nation's retirees. At the same time, our plan would expand choice for seniors by allowing the private sector to compete with Medicare in an effort to offer seniors better-quality and more affordable health-care choices.

Under our plan, Americans currently over the age of 55 would see no changes to the Medicare system. For future retirees, starting in 2022, our plan would introduce a "premium support" system that would empower Medicare beneficiaries to choose either a traditional Medicare plan or a Medicare-approved private plan. Unlike Medicare Advantage, these private plans would compete head-to-head with traditional, fee-for-service Medicare on a federally regulated Medicare exchange.

Wyden: Medicare proposal doesn't erase GOP votes for earlier Ryan plan
The Hill

Wyden said he and Ryan (R-Wis.) want to move past the divisive politics of healthcare. But he said Republicans can't walk away from their support for Ryan's proposal to end the existing Medicare program.

 The Medicare proposal that Wyden and Ryan released Thursday would give seniors a choice between Medicare and private insurance, a departure from Ryan's earlier proposal to privatize the entire program. 

"Traditional Medicare will always be part of this program," Wyden said.

 The two lawmakers said both parties have been on the receiving end of intense healthcare attacks -- over President Obama's healthcare law and Ryan's Medicare proposal -- and cast their proposal an effort to start a new conversation.

What Wyden-Ryan hath wrought
Matt Miller, Washington Post

In this new plan, Wyden gets Ryan to sign onto a key component of that earlier reform. Though it has nothing to do with Medicare, Wyden-Ryan would allow firms with fewer than 100 employees the option of giving their workers (on a tax-advantaged basis) the cash the firms would have spent on their health coverage to buy, voucher-style, other policies. Since most small firms offer just one health plan, this is a huge victory for choice. It means that as many as a third of American workers could use the new health-care exchanges -- a fantastic expansion of access to the exchanges that was perversely killed by both big business and big labor in the Affordable Care Act endgame.

Ryan, Wyden Lay Out Medicare Reform Plan
National Journal

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., laid out a bipartisan plan for Medicare reform on Thursday that would give seniors a choice of using their premium dollars to purchase private plans, or stay in traditional Medicare. Ryan proposed a simpler voucher system as part of his budget plan last year. He and Wyden said the key to success in the program will be the power of choice and the market to drive down health care costs by transitioning one large government payer into a series of smaller plans.

"Traditional Medicare will always be part of this program, not something that's going to be shrouded in ambiguity," Wyden said at a breakfast event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. "It will also offer a menu of private sector choices." People 55 and over now would be unaffected by the proposal. But starting in 2022, it would introduce a "premium support" system that would allow seniors to choose between enrolling in traditional Medicare or in a Medicare-approved private plan.

Ryan, Wyden back a new Medicare option

Wyden is the first Democrat on Capitol Hill to so strongly embrace a variant of Ryan's approach. And Ryan has accepted more flexibility than the Medicare approach in the House budget. Wyden insists the plan would be designed in ways that would preserve the safety net for the elderly.

"I will never do anything to shred that or weaken it or harm [Medicare] in any way," the Oregon Democrat said. "I simply believe that there is now an opportunity for progressives and conservatives to come together and to strengthen the program for the long term and particularly, deal with the costs and demographic challenges."

The Ryan budget plan would have moved seniors in the future into private health plans, with government subsidies known as premium support or -- to his critics, vouchers. Ryan and Wyden plan to release a white paper with more details Thursday at an event sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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