Blog: Ryan will make Medicare key issue in campaign

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate sent a clear signal that Medicare will be a major issue in this presidential election, and President Barack Obama's remarks Sunday indicate he got the message.

Ryan, the 42-year-old chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, is the chief architect of a budget plan that made headlines in 2011 and 2012 for proposing a massive overhaul to the Medicare program. Any other choice for a vice president would not have nearly the same effect on healthcare policy issues as the Wisconsin Republican who recommends a premium support model—in which federal payments are made to health plans that consumers choose—to save the Medicare program. Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal differs from last year’s plan because it would give consumers a choice between premium support and the traditional Medicare program.

What will make the debate interesting in the next three months is to see how both political parties will use Ryan's Medicare plan to their advantage. At a Chicago campaign event a day after Romney made his announcement, Obama criticized the Romney-Ryan campaign for wanting an additional $5 trillion tax cut on top of the Bush-era tax cuts “even if it means voucherizing our Medicare system, even if it means that we are weakening the safety net.”

Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Saturday issued a news release that highlighted three chief elements of the Ryan budget that every voter should know, starting with Medicare as the first point. “Congressman Paul Ryan led House Republicans in voting to end the Medicare guarantee, which increases costs on seniors and weakens America's great middle class in order to give tax breaks to millionaires, Big Oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas,” Pelosi's statement said.

Meanwhile, Ryan has said the premium-support model is necessary to sustain Medicare over the long term—a point Romney emphasized on Monday when he campaigned alone in Florida, a crucial state with a high population of Medicare beneficiaries. “The president’s idea, for instance, for Medicare, was to cut it by $700 billion. That’s not the right answer,” the former Massachusetts governor said to a cheering crowd. “We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare.”

Ryan, meanwhile, has said the premium support model is necessary to sustain Medicare over the long term. When I interviewed Ryan briefly after an event in March, he said he believes there is a bipartisan consensus emerging on both tax and Medicare reform, and that there could be some agreement on entitlement reform in 2013. As the political rhetoric intensifies through November, the looming question is whether voters will want it, too.

What about you? Let me know your thoughts on Ryan's selection and how it could affect your vote and your healthcare organization.

You can follow Jessica on Twitter @MHJZigmond.



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