House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has a plan. He calls it “The Path to Prosperity.” In it he proposes solving the U.S. government deficit problem by privatizing Medicare. He wants to take the money that the government receives from payroll taxes, and instead of using it to provide health care for seniors, he wants to give it to financial institutions in the form of health insurance premiums for those seniors. He is not proposing that seniors be given the money to pay for their own health care; this money must go directly to insurance companies.
I can imagine how the health insurance industry will respond to this windfall. You can bet that whatever premiums they quote to seniors will be at least as much as whatever the maximum amount the government is willing to pay. They are not about to leave money on the table that they have an opportunity to grab.
But I wouldn’t bet that the policies they offer will necessarily cover the medical needs of those seniors. Insurance companies are masters at excluding costs based on medical history. They are famous for denying claims and cancelling policies as soon as customers actually start needing coverage.
Ryan’s approach is curious and its embrace by his fellow Republicans is remarkable considering how much saber rattling they have been doing about the PPACA health care reform bill. They screamed that it was unconstitutional because it fined citizens unless they purchased health insurance. So now they want something instead that “fines” seniors much, much more unless they buy health insurance.
It is also strange considering that their Tea Party base of voters were furious with Washington for bailing out financial institutions. Will these same people be happy to see this gigantic earmark for that very same financial industry?
Ryan’s path to prosperity may indeed make some people prosper: owner’s and executives of insurance companies. True to form, the Republicans have found one more way to transfer wealth from the pockets of the poor and the middle class to benefit those who are already prospering in America. This may turn out to be Ryan’s own personal path to prosperity as the corporate contributions roll in.