Romney calls for more Medicare competition
■ The GOP presidential candidate also would support reducing federal spending by increasing the eligibility age for the program to 67 and capping Medicaid spending.
By Doug Trapp — Posted Nov. 21, 2011
Washington -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he supports offering Medicare beneficiaries a choice between traditional Medicare and "private health plans that provide at least the same level of benefits."
Romney spoke on Nov. 4 at a gathering of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative organization focused on economic reform. The former Massachusetts governor insisted that competition in Medicare would lower costs and increase the quality of health care for beneficiaries, saying, "That's the answer for Medicare." He did not elaborate on how these new plans would relate to existing Medicare private plans.
During the speech, Romney offered some of his most specific proposals yet on Medicare, Medicaid and the health system reform law. For example, he said he supports capping federal spending on Medicaid and increasing Medicare's eligibility age by two years to reach 67, and he also opposes tax hikes to pay for increased Medicare spending.
Under Romney's plan, Medicare's eligibility age would remain the same for existing beneficiaries and people who are close to qualifying. "Medicare should not change for anyone who's in the program or is about to be in it. We should honor the commitments we've made to our seniors," he said. Increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67 would reduce federal spending by a net of $125 billion over a decade, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate released in March.
Romney, who said he would protect Medicare's finances, scolded Obama and congressional Democrats for including $500 billion in Medicare savings over a decade in the health reform law. However, House Republicans in April voted for a plan by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R, Wis.) that included the same spending reductions, to be achieved through increasing Medicare's efficiency in providing care.
Romney said he supports repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The statute "is bad law, it's bad policy," he said. "And when I'm president, that bad news will be over."
The Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board is one example of bad policy in the national law, he said. The IPAB has the task of recommending spending cuts when Medicare costs exceed projected targets, possibly leading to pay reductions for doctors and others. It could act as early as 2014, with its first cuts taking effect the following year.
Romney described the IPAB as a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats. "Those bureaucrats, by the way, they have the power to change Medicare, to put in place further cuts to it without congressional approval, even if those cuts overturn a law previously passed by Congress."
Although Romney opposes the health system reform law, he signed a health reform bill while governor of Massachusetts that became the model for the national law. The Massachusetts reform does not have an IPAB-like organization, but it created a health insurance exchange, expanded Medicaid coverage, and required residents to have health coverage or pay a tax penalty -- all key provisions in the national law.
Romney has said the Massachusetts reforms were the right call for the state but should not have been expanded nationally.
The candidate said he would limit the growth of federal Medicaid spending to inflation plus 1% each year. "We need to turn Medicaid back to the states to allow them at the state level to craft health care solutions that suit their own citizens best." He estimated the change would save the federal government $100 billion a year by 2016. However, Democratic governors and patient advocates have warned that turning Medicaid into a block grant program would lead states to cut coverage and endanger health care for the country's most vulnerable citizens.
Romney also supports turning over federal work force training and funding, including health professions training, to the states. "Today there are nine separate federal agencies that run 47 different federal work force training programs at a cost of $18 billion a year," he said. "Just imagine how much of that is being spent on overhead."