Hands Off My Medicare

Last year, for a brief moment, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s popularity soared as he unveiled his audacious deficit reducing budget. His proposal maintained tax cuts for the wealthy and defense spending while dismantling important programs for lower- and middle-income families, particularly Medicare.

On Monday, he released his new federal budget proposal. Although there are several changes, for the most part it is just more of the same. He continues to allow “job creators” freedom from taxes while eating away at such essential programs as Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the former Food Stamp program) and Medicare.

Fearing the loss of crucial services, there has been an immediate public outcry. On Monday, in defiance of Ryan’s plan to sequester social services, a coalition of health care advocates for seniors gathered to give a middle-class prebuttal to Ryan’s budget.

The gathering featured community leaders who advocated for the millions of Americans whose lives would be most directly affected by Ryan’s budget. “We expect that this budget will severely cut programs for low-income people, seniors, women, people with disabilities and people from communities of color,” said Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President of the Leadership Conference.

Ryan’s previous proposal sought to completely privatize Medicare by transforming it into a private insurance voucher program. Perhaps due to public backlash, Ryan has amended his new plan to in which vouchers would compete with a form of traditional Medicare. “All plans, including the traditional fee-for-service option, would participate in an annual competitive bidding process to determine the dollar amount of the federal contribution seniors would use to purchase the coverage that best serves their medical needs.”

Kaiser Health News reported this week that “some critics are already arguing that the government-administered option would not be affordable and that it could cause doctors to leave the program. Critics have argued that the government-run plan would attract the sickest people, driving up its costs, while private plans would lure the healthiest.”

Opponents of the plan claim that the constraints in the Republican budget on health care funding will not be able to keep up with the growing health care needs of the increasing numbers of older Americans. Frank Stella, President of the MD/DC Alliance for Retired Americans, lamented, “Like most people over 65, I know that I am going to need more and more health care as I get older,” something that will become increasingly unaffordable under Ryan’s budget.

Members of the committee expressed their outrage over Ryan’s insensitivity to the disproportionate effect his plan would have on lower and middle- income families. “Chairman Ryan might be able to live fine with his budget, but the communities represented by the leadership conference don’t have these same options,” Zirkin said, calling for action against the budget proposal.

In the coming weeks, groups such as the Leadership Conference, the Alliance for Retired Americans and Strengthen Social Security will continue to engage in grassroots mobilization and lobbying to defend essential services such as Medicare. The Republican budget is expected to be voted on in the House as early as next week, so there is time for you to tell your member of Congress to oppose the Ryan Republican budget.

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