EDITORIAL

Fix, don’t kill Medicare

Posted June 03, 2011, at 10:09 p.m.

Despite Democrats taunting the many Republicans who obeyed their leaders and voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicare and let seniors fend for themselves with discounted vouchers, the growth in Medicare spending is a real problem that must be addressed.

Outbursts at town meetings and an unexpected Democratic victory in a special House election in New York quickly have highlighted the unpopularity of the cuts in the Republican budget plan.

Many who voted for the Ryan plan have been running for cover. Their “aye” votes could cost many of them re-election if the 2012 election were held this year. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins wisely voted against the budget plan written by Rep. Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee.

It appears that most seniors and many other Americans don’t want any tampering with Medicare. As Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times, “The Ryan plan is turning into a disaster for Republicans, not because the plan’s critics are lying about it, but because they’re describing it accurately.”

But 2012 is still a long way off, and Medicare does indeed face a crisis. Health care costs keep soaring, and the number of participants is zooming as the baby boomers reach retirement age. The hotly defended system is not sustainable in its present form.

Both sides in the current standoff are at fault. Republican leaders, with a renewed interest in deficit and spending reduction thanks to the tea party, must not destroy Medicare if they want to maintain their House majority. And Democratic leaders can and must do something besides kicking the Republicans around over their headlong votes for the Ryan plan.

The situation needs compromise by both sides. Republicans should accept Medicare as here to stay. Democrats should present their own plan to make Medicare sustainable. Most Americans probably would welcome a good-faith effort by both parties.

President Barack Obama’s health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, provides several cost-saving mechanisms that will come into play in future years. For example, digitization of medical care can provide data showing which procedures and devices are workable and reasonably priced and which are not.

Republicans would also do well to follow the advice of New York Times columnist David Brooks. He suggested that they agree on raising the national debt with a bipartisan agreement to reduce the growth of Medicare spending. In exchange, he proposed that Republicans offer to raise taxes on the rich, get rid of interest deductions on mortgages over $500,000, close corporate loopholes and cap the health insurance deduction.

If the lawmakers can settle for negotiations instead of scoring political points, the way is open for agreement that a modified Medicare plan can continue to insure seniors with a system that maintains this safety net.

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