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Strange Bedfellows: How Rep. Ryan’s Medicare Proposal Is Like Obamacare

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief
Daily Ticker

As expected, Paul Ryan's 2013 budget has sparked a fierce partisan debate, especially his proposal to reform Medicare.

Ryan's plan would turn Medicare from a plan paid directly by the government to one where seniors would have private insurance, with premiums subsidized by the government.

"We feel morally bound to offer a choice," Ryan said, noting Medicare will go bankrupt -- as early as 2022 -- without major reforms. "If we simply operate on political fear, nothing is ever going to get done."

Democrats, predictably, seized on Ryan's plan, saying it will ultimately destroy Medicare because private insurers won't cover the sickest and poorest seniors. "What is very very disappointing is the absolute lack of any sense of balance or shared sacrifice," said Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council.

On the surface, Ryan's plan looks a lot like President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, which also generated heated partisan bickering -- and some fear mongering.

"This 2012 election will be extremely ideological," says Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, a political news Web site. "The divisions between the two sides are crystal clear," especially when it comes to the big issues of taxes and entitlement reform.

That said, Marshall thinks there's actually some common ground between Ryan's Medicare reform proposal and, of all things, Obama's health care reform, calling them "somewhat similar at the concept level."

Specifically, both programs are "private" insurance plans with a government backstop for people who are struggling to make the premiums.

Ryan's plan would turn Medicare "over to private insurance and you have some price supports if you have a hard time paying your premiums," Marshall says. "That is a lot like President Obama's health care reform for the country at large."

Of course, Republicans say Ryan is trying to privatize a public program while Obama is trying to turn a private market into a government-run one, but it's an interesting thought experiment to consider the similarities vs. the differences.

Regardless, health care costs do threaten our national solvency and "you need to get the price curve down in Medicare," Marshall notes. "But that's the case regardless of whether it's traditional Medicare or a new system like Ryan wants."