Maggie Fears the Reaper

Maggie Brooks seems a little shaken by the nomination of the Grim Reaper of Medicare, Paul Ryan, to the Republican ticket, since she’s repeating the same lie that Mitt Romney used when he introduced Ryan this weekend. The $700 billion figure is a mainly a cut to the wasteful Medicare Advantage program, which is a failed experiment in using private insurers to provide Medicare coverage. Medicare Advantage is less efficient, so seniors on that program will be moved to regular Medicare–nobody’s losing anything. Alan Bedenko fully destroys the myth of the $700 billion cut today if you want all the details, so instead of focusing on that, let’s move on to what Brooks is trying to hide, courtesy of the Associated Press:

ROMNEY: “Unlike the current president, who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion, we will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security and keep them there for future generations.”

THE FACTS: You could fill an arena with all the details left out in this statement. Ryan’s reputation as a fiscal conservative is built on a budget plan that would overhaul the Medicare program and introduce a voucher-like plan that future retirees could use to buy private health insurance. Whether that results in a better or worse situation for Medicare recipients is a matter of debate. But under Ryan’s plan, traditional Medicare would no longer be the health insurance mainstay, just one of many competing options.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the Ryan plan — which Romney endorsed in broad strokes in the past — would slow the increases in money for seniors. A typical 66-year-old would receive about 35 percent more than last year — $7,400 in 2011 dollars. Under current law, that person would probably receive at least 56 percent more in 2030, and quite possibly 75 percent more — $9,600 in 2011 dollars. The CBO said his plan grows spending for Medicare enrollees “at a much slower rate” than under current law or other policy scenarios. In Washington, a slower increase in spending is tantamount to a spending cut.

Romney’s assertion that the team would preserve Social Security left out the fact that he proposes significant change. He would protect the status quo for people 55 and over but, for the next generations of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients. At least with this program, he has offered more specifics than President Barack Obama has in dealing with the entitlement’s long-term financing shortfall, though neither has laid out a comprehensive solution.

As for his accusation that the president cut Medicare, Obama’s health care law does cut billions from the Medicare Advantage program, hospitals and nursing homes, to pay for expanded insurance coverage.

Maggie Brooks doesn’t want to run on Medicare vouchers, and who can blame her? I don’t know anyone who’s 80 years old who thinks they can buy as good a policy as Medicare for $7,400 today, much less for a few thousand dollars more 18 long years from now. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Ryan plan is the death of Medicare, and Maggie’s right to fear the reaper, because voters won’t be happy once they learn more about the number two guy at the top of her party’s ticket.