Now that the debt-ceiling crisis has been averted, budget critics have come to point out the obvious: Rapidly growing health costs still need to be fixed in a significant way.
The co-chairmen of the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, say the debt-ceiling plan that will cut $2.1 trillion over 10 years is a good start. But it’s not enough, they write in a New York Times opinion piece published on Wednesday.
Any fiscally sound plan has to double the cuts to $4 trillion over the next decade, they say. “To do this, it cannot avoid addressing the ‘big ticket’ items — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security solvency and tax reform,” Bowles and Simpson wrote. On health spending, they suggest cutting payments to doctors, hospitals, and drug companies and collecting higher rebates from the pharmaceutical industry for Medicare and Medicaid drugs.
They also recommend “rational” cost sharing for Medicare seniors—meaning increased copays, premiums, or deductibles—to keep beneficiaries from overusing services and reforming the medical malpractice system. Finally, they recommend a long-term cap on Medicare spending.
But according to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., none of that will be good enough.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece also published on Wednesday, Ryan put in a plug for his House-passed budget plan that would give Medicare seniors insurance subsidies instead of covering whatever care they need, saying the current structure of federal health programs is “unsustainable.”
“Even well-intentioned proposals such as the one put forward by the Senate's Gang of Six lacked specific reforms to curb the health-care spending,” Ryan wrote.
In fact, according to Ryan, the gang "took steps in the wrong direction by explicitly requiring policymakers to ‘maintain the basic structure’ of government health-care programs.”
Ryan criticized President Obama and Senate Democrats for failing to produce a budget that addresses long-term cost concerns -- a talking point Republicans have used since Democrats attacked Ryan’s budget plan as “destroying” Medicare.
“[President Obama’s] speeches and press conferences are no substitutes for actual budgets with specific numbers and independently verified projections of future deficits and debt,” Ryan wrote.