Supporter Of GOP Medicare Plan Admits: "Future Seniors Will Have To Pay More"

April 12, 2011 5:36 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Rep. Paul Ryan

Cato Institute senior fellow Michael Tanner is one of the key architects of the conservative movement's push to privatize Social Security, so it isn't surprising to see him heap praise upon Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) attempt to dismantle Medicare in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. But Ryan may not be eager for the kind of help Tanner offers. In an op-ed that ran in the New York Post on April 10, Tanner wrote of Ryan's approach to Medicare:

Will it mean that in the future seniors will have to pay more of their own money or settle for a plan with fewer benefits, as Democrats have charged? Quite probably.


And that wasn't the only way in which Tanner stepped on the GOP's message. Ryan's plan would shift Medicare to a voucher system beginning in 2022 — except that Ryan doesn't like to call them vouchers, presumably because polls indicate that replacing the current Medicare system with vouchers is rather unpopular. On page 46 of his budget document, Ryan insists: "This is not a voucher program, but rather a premium-support model," though he has previously conceded that they "achieve the same result." So he couldn't have been happy to read Tanner's op-ed, which used the word "vouchers" three times:

Instead of going into Medicare at age 65, they will receive a voucher from the US government to help them purchase private health insurance. Initially that voucher is expected to be for roughly $15,000 per recipient. Lower income seniors and those with higher health care costs because of illness will receive a bigger subsidy. Seniors can use these vouchers, combined with whatever they wish to spend of their own money, to choose an insurance plan that has a cost and mix of benefits that best meets their needs. Instead of a one size fits all system, seniors will have many more choices than they have today.

Fortunately for Ryan, Tanner has previously demonstrated a willingness to abandon clear terminology in favor of poll-tested buzzwords

The Cato Institute, a libertarian research center, established a Project on Social Security Privatization in 1995, but in 2002 it was renamed the Project on Social Security Choice.

"Republicans in Congress do not like the word 'privatization' because it does not poll well,'' said Michael Tanner, director of the project. "The word polls more poorly than the actual concept, in part because people do not understand what it means.''

So it's only a matter of time before Tanner falls in line on "premium-support model," too.

Finally, it's noteworthy that in vouching for Ryan's plan, Tanner felt the need to mislead readers about its bipartisan credentials:

Ryan's plan is based on a model that he originally worked on with Alice Rivlin, President Bill Clinton's budget director. (Now there's a rabid right-winger).

Remember: Tanner's column ran on April 10. On April 6, four days earlier, Alice Rivlin said she does not support Ryan's plan:

Ezra Klein: What struck me when I dug into the details of Ryan's budget is that he changed the target Ryan-Rivlin had set for Medicare from GDP+1% to the rate of inflation. That seems pretty hard to achieve.

Alice Rivlin: That's a reason for me saying very strongly that I don't support the version of Medicare premium support in the Ryan plan. It's both because the growth rate is much, much too low, and because it doesn't preserve fee-for-service Medicare as the default option.

It's quite revealing that supporters of Ryan's Medicare voucher system are having so much trouble finding credible validators for the plan that they resort to falsely suggesting it is supported by someone who in fact "very strongly" opposes it.