GOP senators push for Medicare cuts

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are pushing for major reductions in Medicare spending, even though they know the idea probably won’t be popular with GOP colleagues in an election year.

Burr and Coburn announced their plan, which is expected to reduce Medicare spending by between $300 billion and $1 trillion in the next decade, at a news conference Thursday. 

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Some Republicans wonder about the political wisdom of rolling out a major Medicare-reform bill less than a year before a presidential election. 

“They’re probably going to be pretty nervous, but I think the one thing we’ll take the responsibility for is to educate our colleagues why we feel this sense of urgency,” Burr said. 

The North Carolina Republican said he expects different reactions from members of the Senate GOP conference. 

“We’ll have some that probably think healthcare is not on their interest [list] but they’re willing to engage and watch, and we’ll have some that are politically less risky who will say, ‘How in the world could you do this?’” he added. 

Republicans took a political hit last year after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) offered a budget that would have replaced the traditional Medicare system with government subsidies for people to use to purchase insurance. Congressional Democrats and President Obama went on the attack, and Republicans ended up losing in a New York special election for a House seat where Medicare was the major issue. 


Ryan this year has signaled his budget will not include the same proposal, and instead could include a measure he has co-sponsored with a Democratic senator that would preserve traditional Medicare as an option. 

Burr and Coburn are proposing keeping the current fee-for-service government program but requiring it to compete with private plans, introducing a premium-support plan in 2016.

They would increase the Medicare eligibility age to 67 for people born after 1959 and raise Medicare premiums by 3 percent of the overall program’s costs each year until a 9 percent adjustment is reached by 2016. 

The plan would increase the cap on out-of-pocket costs for individuals earning more than $85,000 a year and couples earning more than $170,000. For example, individuals making between $85,000 and $107,000 would see out-of-pocket costs capped at $12,500. 

It would require that millionaires pay the full cost of Parts B and D premiums and have higher deductibles than other seniors. 

Coburn said a conservative estimate is that the proposed reforms will save $300 billion to $500 billion over the next decade, and that the proposed changes could save as much as $1 trillion over 10 years. 

Burr and Coburn said they will not let the issue drop, even if Democrats use their plan to craft political attacks. 

“Our colleagues know us well enough to know we’re not going away,” Burr said. “This is going to be an issue that we stay on top of. We’ve already made the commitment we’re going to introduce it as a bill. We look forward to that process.”