WASHINGTON D.C. — Republican Paul Ryan’s blueprint for Medicare could prove as polarizing in the campaign as President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has been. Even Mitt Romney may not want to go there.
Romney’s new running mate has built a strong reputation on Capitol Hill for bold ideas to restrain health care costs and federal spending overall. His centerpiece idea is to steer future retirees into private insurance plans, with a fixed payment from the government that may or may not cover as much of a retiree’s costs as does the current program.
Ryan, a conservative Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee, calls his idea “premium support.” Democrats call it a voucher plan. In theory, Ryan’s plan could work, economists say. But the devil’s in the details. Lots of them, and yet to be ironed out.
Ryan would also turn Medicaid over to the states, and sharply limit the growth of future spending on that safety net program. Between them, Medicare and Medicaid cover about 100 million people, touching nearly every American family in some way.
While expressing support broadly, Romney has yet to spell out where he stands on specifics of his running mate’s proposals. And that could get tricky.
Mindful of the risks, Romney put gentle but unmistakable distance between his agenda and Ryan’s hot-potato budget proposals on Sunday, a day after announcing his running mate’s selection. The presidential candidate singled out Ryan’s work “to make sure we can save Medicare.” But Romney never said whether he embraced that plan himself. During the Republican primary, Romney had called Ryan’s budget a “bold and exciting effort” that was “very much needed.”
Democrats wouldn’t let them off the hook, criticizing the “Ryan-Romney” Medicare plan at every turn.