The Ryan Budget Plan Versus the Affordable Care Act

Benjy Sarlin at TPMDC explains why private companies might not be eager to insure Americans who are currently covered by Medicare under a voucher program such as the one Paul Ryan is proposing:

At first glance, Paul Ryan’s plan to send millions of seniors into the free market with dwindling vouchers in hand might seem a boon to the private insurance industry. But would companies even want to participate?

Unlike the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that millions of young and healthy Americans purchase insurance with government subsidies, the Paul Ryan plan would instead bring the oldest, sickest, and least profitable demographic to the table. And with the CBO projecting that the average senior would be on the hook for over two-thirds of their health care costs within just 10 years of the plan’s adoption — a proportion that is projected to worsen in the long run — the government subsidies backing them up may not bring in enough profitable customers to make things worthwhile.

“If reimbursement rates are too low to provide basic benefits, they’ll tell the government, ‘You do it,’” one insurance lobbyist told TPM. “I don’t think they can require they lose money, they’d just pull out.”

Ryan’s plan also might not be as successful at balancing the budget or creating a surplus as Republicans have been saying it would:

This morning, the House debated the budget proposal put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a response to the budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). During the debate, CPC member Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) asked Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) when the Ryan budget would balance and create a surplus. After hemming and hawing for a few seconds, Rokita ultimately couldn’t come up with an answer[.]

Travis Waldron has the answer:

The answer to the question is that the “courageous” and “innovative” Ryan budget would create a surplus for the first time in 2040, according to the Congressional Budget Office. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, meanwhile, determined that the CPC budget would indeed turn a $30.7 billion surplus in 2021, nearly two full decades ahead of Ryan’s “bold” plan.

Paul Krugman does not think that the Ryan budget proposal is a serious attempt to close the deficit or help seniors and the poor and disabled:

Then people who actually understand budget numbers went to work, and it became clear that the proposal wasn’t serious at all. In fact, it was a sick joke. The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatization. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy.

Krugman also wonders about the mote in Ryan’s eye:

And the hissy fit — I mean, criticism — the Obama plan provoked from Mr. Ryan was deeply revealing, as the man who proposes using budget deficits as an excuse to cut taxes on the rich accused the president of being “partisan.” Mr. Ryan also accused the president of being “dramatically inaccurate” — this from someone whose plan included a $200 billion error in its calculation of interest costs and appears to have made an even bigger error on Medicaid costs. He [Ryan] didn’t say what the inaccuracies were.

Ezra Klein points out that the cost controls in the Affordable Care Act are more likely to work than Ryan’s:

At the heart of Ryan’s budget are policies tying the federal government’s contribution to Medicare and Medicaid to the rate of inflation — which is far, far slower than costs in the health-care sector typically grow. He achieves those caps through cost shifting. For Medicaid, the states have to figure out how to save the money, and for Medicare, seniors will now be purchasing their own insurance plans and, in their new role as consumers, have to figure out how to save the money. It won’t work, and because it won’t work, Ryan’s savings will not materialize.

Even Ryan’s fans agree you can’t hold health-care costs down to inflation. But even if you grant that Ryan’s target is too low, his vision for reforming Medicare would like miss a more reasonabke target, too. Consider the program Ryan names as a model. He said his budget converts Medicare into “the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy.” The system he’s referring to is the Federal Employee’s Health Benefits Program, and cost growth there has not only massively outpaced inflation in recent years, but actually outpaced Medicare, too. Ryan’s numbers are so fantastic that Alice Rivlin, who originally had her name on this proposal, now opposes it.

Democrats don’t just have a proposal that offers a more plausible vision of cost control than Ryan does. They have an honest-to-goodness law. The Affordable Care Act sets more achievable targets, and offers a host of more plausible ways to reach them, than anything in Ryan’s budget. “If this is a competition betweenRyan and the Affordable Care Act on realistic approaches to curbing the growth of spending,” says Robert Reischauer, who ran the Congressional Budget Office from 1989 to 1995 and now directs the Urban Institute, “the Affordable Care Act gets five points and Ryan gets zero.”

The Affordable Care Act holds Medicare’s cost growth to GDP plus one percentage point, which makes a lot more sense. It’s the target Ryan’s Medicare plan originally used, back when it was called Ryan-Rivlin. But the target is not really the important part. The important part is how you achieve the target. And the Affordable Care Act actually includes reforms and new processes for future reforms that would help Medicare — and the rest of the medical system — get to where the costs can be saved, rather than just shifted.

Read the rest of Ezra’s piece for more specifics.

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Author: KATHY KATTENBURG