Putting Seniors on the Streets

Last night, Tammy Duckworth made one of the most outlandish claims ever made regarding conservative Medicare reform, commonly referred to as premium support.  In a debate against Illinois-8 incumbent Joe Walsh, she claimed the reform plan would “put seniors out on the streets with a voucher.”

In one short sentence, Ms. Duckworth combined a couple egregious myths in an effort to distort and discredit conservative efforts to reform Medicare, the fastest-growing federal program.

To be clear, Medicare will not become a voucher program.  As the Heritage Foundation’s Bob Moffit explains, “There is no major Medicare reform proposal, including the Ryan proposal, that would issue future senior citizens a voucher (a certificate or coupon or a check for a fixed dollar amount)…”

The premium support system that is a staple of conservative reform efforts not only has a long bipartisan tradition, but is also quite similar to the Medicare Part D program.  Seniors participating in Part D are not wandering the streets; in fact, the program is wildly popular with a 90% satisfaction rating.

Ms. Duckworth’s intent is to invoke the language President Obama and others have used that seniors would be at the mercy of insurance companies.  Joseph Antos, Ph.D., a former Congressional Budget Office official, explains the absurdity of such claims:

“The premium support concept advanced by Ryan relies on informed consumer choice of competing health plans, including traditional Medicare. Seniors would receive a fixed subsidy, higher for those with low incomes and greater needs. To attract enrollees, health plans and providers would seek ways to increase efficiency, lower cost, and reduce premiums while improving quality and customer service.”

And as we have explained before, from Part D and Medicare Advantage to Medigap plans, private insurance companies already play a large role in Medicare.  Ms. Duckworth’s criticisms are not uniquely outrageous, but they do infer a level of desperation amongst proponents of the status quo.   Americans deserve an honest conversation on Medicare, not these continued distortions.

Watch: Medicare Myths: A New Quiz Show


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