Dems: Keep Medicare 'Off the Table' in Deficit Talks

John Commins, June 7, 2011

Five Democratic U.S. Senators on Monday sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, urging him to reject Republican efforts to make their Medicare privatization proposal part of the budget deficit negotiations.

The senators -- Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jon Tester (D-MT) -- said in their letter to Biden, who is leading the bipartisan budget talks, that Republicans continue to ignore the overwhelming public sentiment against the proposal. It would end Medicare as a government-backed benefits program in 2022 and replace it with vouchers that would offset some costs for seniors purchasing health insurance on the private market.

"As the working group moves beyond areas of consensus and into parts of the budget that will require the toughest choices, we wish to identify in advance one proposal that we cannot support in any form -- the House-passed plan to dismantle Medicare," the senators wrote. "For the good of the nation's seniors, it must remain off the table."

The GOP proposal, nicknamed "Vouchercare" by its detractors, passed the House along a party-line vote this spring, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the author of the legislation, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have both said that their Medicare proposal should be part of the deficit reduction talks.  

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Ryan plan will double the amount of money that seniors would end up paying out of their own pockets, about $12,500 a year.

A poll released Monday by the PewResearchCenter shows mixed reaction to the GOP proposal among 1,509 adults surveyed, with 41% opposing it, 36% favor it, and nearly a quarter (23%) with no opinion either way. However, those ages 50 and older oppose it by a 51%-to-29% margin. And this opposition is intense: 42% strongly oppose this kind of change, while only 19% strongly favor it, Pew said.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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