By Mike Lillis - 10/22/10 07:17 PM EDT
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Friday that, to rein in federal spending, Congress should change Medicare so wealthier seniors pay more for their benefits.
That system of "means testing" already governs Medicare's prescription drug benefit (Part D) and physician services (Part B), but not the traditional hospital-benefits program (Part A).
Corker said that should probably change.
Asked how to tackle Medicare spending "without rationing," the Tennessee Republican said lawmakers "need to look at things, I'm sorry, like means testing."
"The program cannot continue as it is," he said on CNBC. "And you have to look at how payments are made. … The fact is it's a fee-for-service program with almost unlimited intake. So we've got to look at outcomes.
"Medicare is $37 trillion in the hole as far as unfunded liabilities," he said. "We can't continue on that path."
The comments came as Republicans, running in unison on a platform of eliminating deficit spending, are being prodded to provide some specifics about how they'd do it.
Critics of the means testing, including many liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, argue such a system might encourage wealthier seniors to abandon Medicare for private insurance. That, they say, would turn Medicare into a welfare-like program — and threaten to erode public support.
Still, with Medicare projected to go belly up in 2029, Congress will have to step in sooner or later to address the crisis.
Corker said Friday that nothing — not defense programs, not entitlements — should escape congressional scrutiny.
"Nothing's off the table," Corker said. "Nothing."