Medicare Reform Not Always a Partisan Issue

At this moment, there appear to be few issues that elicit has much partisan rhetoric as Medicare reform.  Ever since Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released the House Republicans’ 2012 budget proposal – a proposal that includes a transition of Medicare to a “premium support” model, in which the federal government will provide a financial contribution to assist beneficiaries in choosing from a list of private health coverage plans – there has been a pitched battle in the media between Democrats and Republicans over whether such a change would mean essentially an end to Medicare and be harmful to beneficiaries.

But the Washington Post reminded us this weekend that the premium support concept has its roots in bipartisanship.  The idea was, in fact, endorsed by the Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, which did its work in the late 1990s.  One of the co-chairs of that commission, then-U.S. Senator John Breaux (D-LA) championed the approach, saying “Medicare as we know it is going to end by itself if we don’t make some changes.” 

More recently, Alice Rivlin, President Clinton’s budget director, worked with Congressman Ryan on a bipartisan premium support proposal when they were both members of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission (although she makes it clear that she does not support the current Ryan plan).

Senator Breaux and I have served together as co-chairs of the Medicare Today coalition, a group that helps provide information to seniors about the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.  Senator Breaux has told me that his work on the Part D issue has convinced him that seniors value the ability to make their own healthcare decisions, including a choice of coverage plan, and that supporting this freedom of choice really should be a bipartisan objective.

It isn’t bipartisan today, but we can only hope that as work continues on making Medicare sustainable for future generations, we’ll rediscover the bipartisanship that existed on Senator Breaux’s Medicare commission and see Democrats and Republicans working together to make changes the program needs to live on for future generations.