Key House chair­man: GOP will change Medi­care, to ‘save’ it ‘Medi­care guar­an­tee’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

WASH­ING­TON: The chair­man of a key House com­mit­tee is pledg­ing that con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans will change Medi­care in or­der to save it.

GOP Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, head of the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, in­sisted Thurs­day that Repub­li­cans won’t be de­terred by the pol­i­tics, even though Don­ald Trump won elec­tion as pres­i­dent on prom­ises to pro­tect the pop­u­lar health care pro­gram for older Amer­i­cans, and Democrats are al­ready warn­ing of a “war on se­niors.”

“Demo­crat tac­tics of ‘Medis­care’ have been around a long time. They’ve stopped work­ing,” Brady told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view in the Capi­tol. “Vot­ers have fig­ured out Repub­li­cans want to save Medi­care for the long term, and they know that those who say ev­ery­thing’s just fine with it aren’t lev­el­ing with them.”

But Brady also said the GOP will move cau­tiously on Medi­care, start­ing with smaller changes. And he de­clined to say when the party might try to pass “pre­mium sup­port,” the con­tro­ver­sial ap­proach that would, over time, re­make Medi­care into a voucher-like pro­gram that would force se­niors to buy health in­surance on the open mar­ket.

Crit­ics say such cov­er­age would take away the “Medi­care guar­an­tee” and give se­niors sub­si­dies whose value won’t keep up with in­fla­tion. “I think it’s im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in health care, to take this step by step,” Brady said. “Whether it’s the re­place­ment of the Af­ford­able Care Act, how we make Med­i­caid work bet­ter, how we save Medi­care for the long term.”

“So I en­vi­sion 2017 as tak­ing steps, small, in pre­par­ing for larger steps to save Medi­care for the long term,” he said, men­tion­ing early re­forms in the ar­eas of post-acute care - nurs­ing homes, home health care agen­cies and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties. “I’m ab­so­lutely con­fi­dent, in fact I’m op­ti­mistic, that by fo­cus­ing on qual­ity and in­no­va­tion in Medi­care that we can save that pro­gram for the long term in a very pos­i­tive way,” Brady said.

Democrats have al­ready made clear that they view the GOP fo­cus on Medi­care as a ripe politi­cal tar­get. The in­com­ing Sen­ate Demo­cratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, fired an open­ing salvo ear­lier this week when he de­clared at a news con­fer­ence: “It’s clear that Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans are plot­ting a war on se­niors next year. Ev­ery se­nior, ev­ery Amer­i­can should hear this loudly and clearly: Democrats will not let them win that fight.”

“We say to our Repub­li­cans that want to pri­va­tize Medi­care, go try it, make our day,” Schumer said.

Democrats have had politi­cal suc­cess in the past by at­tack­ing GOP plans to over­haul en­ti­tle­ments. Right af­ter get­ting re-elected in 2004, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush held a news con­fer­ence in which he claimed a man­date for change and that meant en­ti­tle­ments. The on­go­ing Iraq war and that push on Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity cost the GOP con­trol of the House and Sen­ate in 2006.

Now, with Repub­li­cans in con­trol of both chambers of Congress and the White House next year, Democrats clearly view those same is­sues as their path back into the ma­jor­ity.

The les­son is not lost on Repub­li­cans, and sev­eral Sen­ate Repub­li­cans said this week that they would not be ea­ger to make Medi­care changes their top pri­or­ity, es­pe­cially given their plans to move quickly to re­peal Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law. “I think the first pri­or­ity is Oba­macare and that’s go­ing to take most of the oxy­gen out of the room,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “The Med­i­caid is­sue, Medi­care is very con­tro­ver­sial. We were com­mit­ted to re­peal­ing Oba­macare, and that’s what we’ve got to do first.”

Medi­care, in place more than a half-cen­tury, is con­sid­ered the gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship health in­surance pro­gram. It cov­ers about 57 mil­lion peo­ple, in­clud­ing 48 mil­lion se­niors and 9 mil­lion dis­abled peo­ple. Medi­care has strong pub­lic sup­port across party lines and gen­er­a­tions.

Adding to the politi­cal com­pli­ca­tions for the GOP, Trump cam­paigned as a pro­tec­tor of Medi­care, say­ing in an in­ter­view with The Daily Sig­nal last year: “I’m not go­ing to cut So­cial Se­cu­rity like ev­ery other Repub­li­can and I’m not go­ing to cut Medi­care or Med­i­caid. Ev­ery other Repub­li­can is go­ing to cut.”

But Trump al­ready ap­pears to be shift­ing. His tran­si­tion web­site men­tions mod­ern­iz­ing Medi­care, though with­out de­tails, and his nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, GOP Rep. Tom Price of Ge­or­gia, has also backed the pre­mium sup­port idea.

WASH­ING­TON: House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas., speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press on Capi­tol Hill on Thurs­day. — AP

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