Paul Ryan to seniors: Medicare ‘going bankrupt,’ competition is answer

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke bluntly about Medicare and Social Security Friday, sketching Republican reform ideas and arguing that President Obama, not the GOP, is putting those programs at financial risk.

Often accused by political foes of scheming to “gut Medicare,” Mr. Ryan sought to turn that image around.

Speaking at the AARP‘s “Life @ 50+” conference in New Orleans, he pledged that a Romney-Ryan White House would make no changes to Medicare for Americans now at or near retirement age.

Using terminology that critics say is exaggerated, Ryan said Medicare is “going bankrupt.” He accused Mr. Obama of offering no plan for how to cope with projected financial shortfalls, other than calling on unelected bureaucrats to impose cost cuts. Ryan was referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, set up in the president’s 2010 health-care reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“We propose putting 50 million seniors … in charge of their own health-care decisions,” Ryan said in his speech.

Giving seniors a choice of insurance plans, including traditional Medicare, would encourage competition and help hold down the medical inflation rate, he argued.

Ryan’s remarks elicited an animated blend of boos and some cheers, sounds that sometimes competed as the congressman from Wisconsin spoke on, unfazed.

Obama addressed the same crowd Friday via satellite. He said the Romney-Ryan approach would undermine a program millions of Americans hold in high regard. “The problem is that insurance companies, once they’re getting vouchers, they’re really good at recruiting the healthier, younger Medicare recipients,” Obama argued. “The entire infrastructure of traditional Medicare ends up collapsing, which means that all seniors at some point end up being at the mercy of the insurance companies.”

Their dueling visions set the parameters of a battle that will continue between now and Election Day.

The Republican ticket argues that the way to save Medicare is to introduce more competition, and that Obama’s path puts the program on a course toward weakness and insolvency. “Time and again, … he’s put his own job security over your retirement security,” Ryan said.

The president, in his most recent weekly address to the nation, said he proposes “reforms that will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending in the health-care system and reining in insurance companies — reforms that won’t touch your guaranteed Medicare benefits.”

The timing of Ryan’s speech was especially sensitive, given that Romney has been scrambling this week to overcome bad publicity about remarks to campaign donors that were caught on videotape. He said 47 percent of Americans wouldn’t vote for him because they don’t pay taxes and are “dependent” on government.

Some seniors took the comment to be aimed in part at them. Retirees may pay no income tax, although they have paid payroll and other taxes during working careers. At the same time, Ryan’s speech offered the potential for the campaign to change the subject to substantive policy matters.

The very notion of reforming Medicare or Social Security has long been viewed as a politically dangerous subject for politicians to touch.

Just as Ryan waded head-on into the danger zone Friday, a new Romney campaign ad does so, as well: In it Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida says, “Anyone who is for leaving Medicare like it is, is for letting it go bankrupt.” The ad said the program can be saved, but “only if younger Americans accept that our Medicare will be different than our parents’ when we retire.”

In his speech, Ryan pitched this as the realistic view. “We respect you enough to level with you,” he told the audience. He said Romney’s aim would be to work out reforms with bipartisan support, and that some Democrats have already embraced the concepts urged by the GOP candidates.

Responding to an audience question, Ryan said the goal is to avoid a public-debt crisis that could emerge for America in coming years, as has occurred in some European nations.

Ryan also addressed Social Security in his speech. He said projected shortfalls in that program can be fixed with a few changes: raising the retirement age modestly and gradually (starting in the 2020s), and holding wealthier seniors to a slower rise in benefits. Citing some Social Security recipients now in poverty, he said benefits for the lowest-income seniors should rise.

The Obama and Ryan remarks also come as the AARP itself faces some negative publicity. In aWall Street Journal column, Kimberly Strassel said that newly public e-mails from 2009 and 2010 show the AARP cooperating with the Obama White House to get his health insurance reforms passed. The conservative columnist argued that the Obama law “sets the stage for rationing,” and that its moves set the AARP’s leadership at odds with many of its members.

In a New York Times/CBS poll released this week, 40 percent of Americans say Medicare will need “major changes” to become financially sound, while 36 percent said “minor changes,” and others said no change or were unsure.

On Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the poll found that 15 percent of Americans would keep the law as is, and 22 percent would like to see it expanded. But 26 percent would like to see the law’s mandate on individuals to buy insurance repealed, and another 30 percent want the whole law repealed.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Brandt Hardin on 09/21/2012 - 06:50 pm.

    Completely Out of Touch

    Republicans would have us believe Obamacare is bad for America. Is there any doubt that a Romney administration would favor the rich and increase the income gap in our country while leaving millions of our citizens uninsured and unprotected? Mitt is a pariah in Mormon Clothing and will stop at nothing to expand an empire of greed for the rich in this country. Can his sacred Mormon underwear gain him enough donations to buy this election? See for yourself as Mitt dons his tighty-whities sent from the Good Lord Himself at

  2. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 09/22/2012 - 10:17 am.

    running out of money?

    Two main republican planks seem to be that all the so called entitlement programs like
    Social Security and Medicare are going bankrupt and that the answer is to privatize them and provide vouchers for such benefits,, and that only tax cuts can save the economy. It sounds contradictory, and it is. Neither Social Security nor Medicare are going bankrupt although Medicare has more financial issues than SS. All that has to be done when SS funds run low is to increase the lifetime cap of $$110,000 (I believe), and no cuts in benefits or raises in age eligibillity are required. I am not surre what the fix or fixes are for Medicare, but I know they exist, and in any case, it is NOT going bankrupt.
    The R&R plan would probably cut costs for the govt. , and increase them for the individuals ad provide windfalls for corporations and the financial industry–these are the real constituents of a R&R administration. .

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/22/2012 - 12:21 pm.

    There should be a rule that those who are polled on the Affordable Care Act–or Medicare, or Social Security–must first pass a short quiz on what that program actually IS. Most Americans are ignorant of the provisions of what is derisively called “Obamacare,” yet they tend vigorously to oppose it. Except, of course, when presented with a “Do you like …?” question, and then the revelation that it’s part of the ACA.

    Those seniors who pay attention, like those at the AARP convention, know that the dangers of a Medicare voucher system are real. Why else does Ryan use a euphemism for his plan’s provision to provide money to seniors for their health care insurance, instead of a guaranteed health care insurance plan (Medicare)?

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