December 15, 2011

Wyden Spokesperson Responds to Criticism of Wyden-Ryan Plan

Washington, D.C. – In response to criticism from the White House and others that Wyden-Ryan would “end Medicare as we know it” Jennifer Hoelzer, Communications Director and Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), issued the following statement:

“It would appear that our critics did not read the Wyden-Ryan white paper before choosing to attack it.  The White Paper that Senator Wyden authored with Representative Ryan makes it very clear that seniors will always be able to get traditional fee-for-service Medicare.  And the idea that Ron Wyden -- who has been a seniors' rights advocate since he was 28 years old -- would coauthor a plan to undermine the most important federal safety net for seniors is ridiculous.

“Again, if critics read the plan before characterizing it, they would learn that not only does our plan require Medicare to always be available in the Medicare exchange, it would only allow private plans to compete for Medicare customers IF they can find a way to offer coverage that is at least as comprehensive and high quality as traditional fee-for-service Medicare.  As many proponents of the public option cited during the health reform debate, a publicly run plan such as Medicare "competes based on delivering quality, efficient care not on delivering profits to shareholders." Thus resulting in "more competition, better coverage and lower premiums for millions of Americans."  It is unclear why some who made these statements in 2009, now believe allowing private plans to compete with Medicare would end Medicare.

“We are not saying that private plans will be able to offer higher quality more affordable benefits than Medicare, rather we are saying that they should have an opportunity to try.  Moreover, under our system not a single senior would be required to purchase health insurance from a private company, we just give them the option of choosing such a plan if it does a better job of meeting their regional, health or economic needs.

“Again, if critics would read the plan before characterizing it, they would learn that if health costs exceed the cap, they would not be automatically passed on to consumers as higher premiums.  Wyden-Ryan is the only plan that specifically prohibits this.  Moreover, Wyden-Ryan is not the first plan to propose a cap on Medicare spending, one was already enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.  In fact, it was widely reported that the President proposed lowering that cap below the proposed Wyden-Ryan GDP+1% level as part of deficit negotiations earlier this year.

“But the immediate criticism of our proposal underscores the reason it was offered.  Action will have to be taken to ensure a future for Medicare.  As the Medicare trustees reported earlier this year, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is projected to run out of money in 2024.  If we allowed this to happen, Medicare would cease to exist as we know it. 

“As we have learned in recent years, partisan brinksmanship does not tend to yield the best policy solutions.  The longer Congress waits to take action and the more Medicare is used as a political weapon, the harder it will be to save and strengthen Medicare.  Senator Wyden and Representative Ryan are attempting to engage Democrats and Republicans in a constructive conversation about how best to save and strengthen Medicare, so that every senior has high quality affordable health insurance for as long as there is a United States.  It would be more productive if others would join in that conversation instead of attacking it.”