STATE CAPITOL NEWSLETTER: Ryan’s plan

by Matt Pommer

Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, is promoting an economic “roadmap” that would dramatically affect those under the age of 55.

For them it includes major changes in Medicare and Social Security, including increasing the age of Medicare eligibility in “gradual steps” to age 69 and six months. Medicare eligibility is now at an American’s 65th birthday.

Ryan’s “roadmap” maintains the status quo for those who are at least age 55. That’s a good political move because older citizens have indicated they really like the current socialistic systems of Medicare and Social Security.

During the current debates on health care, seniors have indicated the status quo is nifty. “We’re aboard, pull up the ladder,” seems to be the sentiment of those once labeled as the “greatest generation.”

Ryan – often mentioned as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012 – also is pushing the idea of allowing citizens under the age of 55 the voluntary option of putting some of their Social Security taxes into individual accounts to be invested in bonds, stocks and other securities.

Every dollar put into the account “will be guaranteed even after inflation,” according to Ryan’s explanation of his roadmap. And if you died before the money was used, it would go tax free to your heirs.

Ryan argues individuals could do better financially with some of their money in these individual accounts. Perhaps as many as five “low risk, government-regulated options” would be available for the money. But the key is the government guaranteeing all of the money put into the accounts.

Without such a guarantee, the idea would put individuals at risk when the next recession or depression sweeps America. Exactly how the government will make whole any losses is subject to debate. This idea (critics label it “privatization” of some retirement monies) was similar to one floated by President George W. Bush. Congressional Republicans showed no enthusiasm for it at the time. Ryan said these private investments could help the American economy expand.

But Ryan’s ideas on health reform are more current. His roadmap would provide grants to individuals not on senior citizen programs to pay for health insurance. For most Americans it would be $2,300 for an individual and $5,700 for a family. Any additional costs for health insurance would have to come from your own pocket or your employer.

Ryan’s plan would likely make Americans pay out of their pockets more than they now do for health insurance or care. He argues that it would help health consumers focus on the price and quality of services at different hospitals and clinics.

For those now under age 55, Ryan would merge their future Medicare programs, including drug coverage, into a single program. When they become eligible, they would get senior citizen grants to buy health insurance.

But the change in Medicare eligibility will have the most dramatic effect. He notes the average retirement age has dropped from about 69 in 1945 to just over 63 in 2007. But the retirement age will increase if a Medicare-at-65 is gone.

Yet to be seen is whether fellow Republicans in Congress will embrace his ideas as their alternative to Democratic health care reform.


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