Medicare has become the pivotal political issue in Washington, not just in the deficit debate but in the Republican 2012 election as well. GOP primary candidate Newt Gingrich has spent his week furiously backpedaling from his observation on Meet the Press last weekend that Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan amounts to “right-wing social engineering.” The incident shows that a willingness to gut Medicare has become the price of acceptance into the Republican Party.
Finally, however, Democrats look to be stepping up to the plate to match Republicans’ fury to gut Medicare with an equal fury to save it, a position likely to have far more sway with the 84 percent of voters who oppose changes to the program. This afternoon, Nancy Pelosi drew the line in the sand the left has been clamoring for, promising “no benefit cuts.” Democrats have also enlisted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to spread the message on Capitol Hill today that proposals within Ryan’s plan will cut the benefits of current seniors, despite the fact that full Medicare privatization only begins in 2022. For instance, by undoing the prescription doughnut-hole benefits of the Affordable Care Act, the plan would leave seniors to cover a huge tab on their medication. For the 150,000 seniors in Rhode Island, this would amount to an additional $9.5 million annually.
Democrats are also circulating disturbing projections from the Center for Economic and Policy Research that projects an adult currently between the ages of 45 and 55 will have to pay $182,000 extra for health insurance under Ryan’s plan, despite having paid into Medicare for a half decade or more. This extra burden won’t just stretch budgets. $180,000 is more than a minimum-wage earner would make in five years, let alone save. It shows once and for all that the Ryan plan doesn’t save Medicare, it ends it, and it doesn’t help the seniors of today or the next generation.