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September 16. 2012 1:43AM

Medicare 'vouchers'? Obama advisers back them, too

Paul Ryan’s plan to create a private health insurance option for Medicare recipients is such an extremely right-wing idea that President Obama’s top two health care advisers would never, ever propose doing such a thing. Except, they did.

National Journal reported last week that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber (renowned as the mind behind both Romneycare and Obamacare) and Harvard economist David Culter, both considered the most influential advisers to President Obama on health care, recommended to the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission in 2010 that Medicare be changed from a government insurance program to a premium support plan similar to the one first offered by Ryan and former Clinton Budget Director Alice Rivlin. Like Ryan, they wanted the government to give people a set amount of money that they could use to buy private insurance. Unlike Ryan, they proposed having Washington forcibly move Medicaid recipients into that system.

“‘How about this … removing the special status of [traditional] Medicare,’ Cutler wrote. He then suggested giving an executive board created by the Democrats’ health care law the option of ‘moving the Medicare population into the exchanges,’” National Journal reported. Cutler added, “That would be the same as the voucher.”

About the Ryan plan, Gruber wrote to the commission, “So overall I like this proposal for Medicare — SO LONG as it is built on top of health reform.”

Culter, who criticized the Ryan plan in an Obama campaign memo earlier this year, defended his back and forth to National Journal last week, saying, “Nowhere in the campaign memo do I say that private plans are a bad idea for Medicare. Indeed, my recent JAMA paper explicitly says that such plans could be more efficient than traditional Medicare — though the case is not completely clear.”

Gruber is more adamant. He told National Journal for last week’s story, “premium support is ultimately where we need to be.”

He is right about that, which is why Ryan’s plan is the one that, contrary to Obama’s demagoguery, actually saves Medicare by making it financially sustainable. But why let facts get in the way of a political message?


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