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A Crack in the Wall

December 15, 2011
9:46 am

If there ever seemed an issue, in today’s political environment, upon which Democrats and Republicans would never meet in the middle, it is Medicare reform.  This is always particularly true in the months leading up to an election.  It’s just too easy to portray any new idea to make the Medicare program more affordable or sustainable as a dangerous threat to vulnerable seniors.

That’s why it’s impossible to overstate the significance of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) reaching across the aisle and joining together to offer a meaningful Medicare reform plan.  This development has probably caused no small amount of heartburn in some political and campaign planning circles, but for taxpayers, future Medicare beneficiaries and the program itself, this is a very positive step.

We’re not going to try to comprehensively analyze the Wyden-Ryan plan right now in this space.  Both lawmakers have, in fact, said that they won’t offer legislative language until after the 2012 elections.  In broad strokes, though, the concept offers a sustainable path for Medicare’s future, offering beneficiaries a fixed federal contribution that can be used to acquire coverage from either conventional fee-for-service Medicare or a selection of competing private plans.  As we’ve said at the Healthcare Leadership Council, in advocating this type of approach, competition will drive greater innovation, quality and value.

The news today, though, is not the details of the plan, but the fact that Ron Wyden and Paul Ryan have opened up a crack in the previously impenetrable wall between the two parties on this issue.  If this gradually moves us to a place where we have more substantive discussions about how to maintain a viable Medicare program, and fewer 30-second “Mediscare” TV ads, then these two have made an incredibly valuable contribution.

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