Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny has unveiled specifics on what he would do to reform Medicare, and his Democratic opponent promptly accused him of supporting a privatized version of the federal program.
Doheny, a Watertown businessman, posted a commentary about Medicare reform on his campaign's website Wednesday morning. He said the U.S. has a long history of taking care of its "most vulnerable citizens," and Medicare is a key part of that because it gives seniors and disabled citizens a guarantee to the care they deserve.
"Sadly, our Medicare system is at a crisis point as spending grows twice as fast as our economy," Doheny said. "Most members of Congress treat the program like a political football, pointing fingers while ducking the tough challenges that lay ahead."
(Enterprise file photo)
Doheny said about 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next two decades. He said Medicare needs to be fixed now so it can be preserved for current recipients and future generations.
Doheny's opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, has pushed for details on what Doheny would do to fix Medicare. His campaign even launched a clock on the Bill Owens for Congress website that kept track of the days that passed since Doheny stated on Sept. 21, 2011, that he would talk about specific changes. The clock was still ticking this morning.
"My opponent wants to turn Medicare into subsidized private insurance," Owens said in an emailed statement. "Paul Ryan and Matt Doheny have their priorities wrong - we need to strengthen Medicare and reduce costs to ensure better outcomes."
In his commentary, Doheny said he wasn't putting forth a plan.
"Instead, these are some ideas I'd like to see incorporated in any bipartisan effort put before Congress," he said.
Doheny said patient choice is important. He said recipients who like the current "fee-for-service system" should be able to keep using it, but he added that Medicare should also welcome competition. He said it's been proven that market forces keep costs from escalating.
"To participate, private plans would have to meet or exceed benefits offered through traditional Medicare - and plans should not be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions," Doheny said. "In all instances, the federal government should pay insurers directly. This is not a voucher program."
Owens argued that Doheny is, in fact, pushing a voucher program.
"He's saying it's not a voucher program," the Democrat said. "But it's a distinction without a difference. The government can give a senior a voucher to buy insurance on the private market, or it can pay the private insurer directly. Either way, it's privatization and it ends the Medicare guarantee."
Doheny pitched some other ideas aimed at reforming Medicare, too. He said he wants to align incentives, combining Medicare Parts A and B into a "single deductible to reduce the perverse incentive for providers to push beneficiaries toward expensive hospitalizations." He also said the retirement age should be increased because the average life span has increased from about 70 to 78 since Medicare was first enacted.
"It was thought Medicare would cover about the last five years of a person's life," Doheny said. "Now, that's closer to 13."
Doheny said Congress should increase the age of eligibility to 67 incrementally over a 10-year period.
Increasing caps on out-of-pocket costs for retirees earning more than $1 million and stronger consumer protections would also help improve Medicare, Doheny said.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.