Mitt Romney’s campaign is ripping into Newt Gingrich over his past criticism of Paul Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare with a private voucher system. So what’s the actual difference between the two candidates’ proposals?
Romney, of course, isn’t exactly offering voters a chance to vote for Ryan Plan either. And back when Ryan debuted his controversial — and widely disliked — plan to change Medicare in to a voucher system, Romney was vague in his response. He praised Ryan, but promised his own plan for Medicare that would be different from the plan sent to the Senate by House Republicans.
“It’s not going to be identical to the Ryan plan, but it shares many of those objectives,” he said back in May.
Despite his cautious initial response to the Ryan plan, when Romney put out his own plan, conservative wonks were pleasantly surprised to find it retained many similar features. It would gradually replace the current system with a premium support system in which seniors could buy private coverage on their own. Unlike Ryan’s plan, it keeps “traditional” fee-for-service Medicare as one of these plans. However, if the private plans end up being cheaper than Medicare, seniors have to pay the difference out of pocket to keep it.
It’s not yet clear how generous the benefits for these plans or the vouchers to purchase them would be, so it’s tough to judge how much money it would save and how much seniors would be forced to pay out of pocket versus the Ryan plan. But it’s a pretty radical re-imagining of the system that health care advocates warn could lead some seniors to lose their coverage entirely, especially if Romney succeeds in repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Newt Gingrich slammed Ryan’s plan as “right wing social engineering,” but he later said he’d be fine with it so long as it’s a voluntary system. And Gingrich’s Medicare proposal ended up being exactly that: seniors would be able to purchase private insurance with a voucher, a la Paul Ryan, or stick with Medicare. Sounds like Romney, right?
Not quite. As the Wall Street Journal notes in an editorial today, the difference is that under Gingrich’s proposal, Medicare won’t be just another plan competing with the premium support system that seniors can purchase with a voucher, but a whole separate system in and of itself. If seniors think it’s more generous and dependable than the private system, they can stick with it, period, making it tougher to keep costs down but also making it less disruptive for those who are used to the old system.
“He would add another option, but he would not offer another option in a way that offers the kind of choice that would get the inefficiencies out of the system,” ex-Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney backer, told TPM on Thursday.
So while neither plan is fully formed and both rhetorically claim they “preserve Medicare” alongside a private system, it may be a very different Medicare we’re talking about.
We reached out to the Gingrich campaign as to how they plan to respond to Romney’s attack on his Ryancare position and will post their response.