By Mike Lillis
A top Republican this week endorsed a GOP plan to rein in deficit spending by privatizing Medicare and scaling back the program's benefits.
Rep. Spencer Bachus (Ala.) said the controversial measure — championed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — would shore up the nation's entitlement programs and ""doesn't cut any benefits to do that."
Instead, Ryan's plan — dubbed "The Roadmap for America's Future" — "gradually raises the retirement age … and simply gets a handle on accountability," Bachus, senior Republican on the Financial Services Committee, told the Fox Business Network Monday.
"You don't have to cut benefits … What you have to do is you have to reform Social Security; you have to reform Medicaid and Medicare. If you don't … they're going to fail."
Many Democrats and healthcare advocates, however, consider raising the eligibility age to be a benefit cut.
And it's not the only cut in the bill. The "Roadmap" also adopts a system of means-testing, so that higher-income seniors pay more for their coverage than lower-income beneficiaries. And it replaces Medicare's single-payer system with vouchers for those entering the program after 2020 — vouchers that would be worth less, when the program launched in 2021, than the projected benefits for Medicare enrollee under the current program, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
"Beneficiaries would therefore face higher premiums in the private market for a package of benefits similar to that currently provided by Medicare," CBO said.
Also, because the value of the vouchers is expected to grow more slowly than medical inflation, more and more costs would shift to seniors as the voucher program ages, CBO said.
"Beneficiaries would therefore be likely to purchase less comprehensive health plans or plans more heavily managed than traditional Medicare, resulting in some combination of less use of healthcare services and less use of technologically advanced treatments than under current law."
For that reason, most Republicans have declined to endorse Ryan's plan for fear of alienating an active voting bloc: seniors. Instead, leaders have run on a platform of balancing budgets without specifying how to rein in spending on the entitlements — particularly Medicare and Medicaid, which together are the single largest driver of deficit spending.
Bachus on Monday said he's endorsed Ryan's plan, though he isn't listed as an official co-sponsor.
Calls and emails to Bachus' office were not immediately returned Monday.