Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate could be attributed to many different factors, but I like to think that Romney, realizing that Democratic ads would continue to tie him to “The Ryan Plan To End Medicare As We Know It (Seniors Beware!),” decided that there could be no better way for his campaign to defend the plan than to add its architect to the ticket. According to a Pew Research poll released August 22, 55 percent of seniors disapprove of the Ryan plan’s proposed changes to Medicare. While conventional wisdom says that embracing a plan as unpopular as Ryan’s is not smart politics, Romney and Ryan might be banking on the fact that most of the negative attention the plan has received is based on the claim that the plan would hurt seniors by cutting Medicare – a claim that is utterly false.
While the truth about the plan may be controversial as well, our generation must embrace Ryan’s plan for Medicare. The plan is one of the only realistic ways the government can control entitlement spending. American entitlement programs have essentially demonstrated that they are incapable of handling changes to the age distribution of our country’s population. Ignoring for a moment that health care costs continue to rise, Medicare and Social Security are facing a situation where there will be many more people drawing from the system than paying into it. (Should have had more kids, baby boomers!) Multi-generational entitlement programs can only continue by drastically reducing the ﬁnancial allocations that future generations (our generation) can receive.
To be clear, Ryan’s plan dramatically changes Medicare, introducing a voucher system that experts agree would lead to more out of pocket costs for Medicare enrollees. The plan also explicitly states that these changes would begin in 2022, which means that only those who are currently 55 years old or younger would be affected by the new policy. I would urge those who leap at the chance to bemoan Republicans’ “disinformation” to hold Democrats responsible for the millions of dollars that have been spent on advertisements trying to confuse current seniors into believing that the Ryan plan would hurt them. That senior citizens have reacted so negatively to Ryan’s plan once tricked into thinking that their services will be cut is not a surprise. However, Ryan’s presence on the ticket, along with the amount of time left before the election, should provide ample opportunity to better inform the public of the plan’s real impact.
Another beneﬁt to making Ryan’s Medicare plan at the center of the debate is that, as David Brooks pointed out, the increase in Medicare spending is the most important issue facing America long-term. Am I in love with the idea of paying higher out-of-pocket costs for health care when I reach retirement? No. But, as Milton Friedman said, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The fact of the matter is that our generation will end up subsidizing a prior generation’s expensive beneﬁt program, in the process acquiring so much debt that we will be unable to enjoy the same level of support. Amazingly, although everyone knows this to be true, Democrats continue to blame Republicans for their efforts to “end Medicare as we know it.” Newsﬂash: Medicare as we know it is bankrupting itself and the federal government. Change is necessary. So far, the Romney-Ryan ticket is the only to acknowledge how serious the issue is and propose a solution. The nation would be better off if the Democratic Party could join with Republicans to tackle the problem, instead of utilizing the specter of cuts for political gain.
The impact of Ryan’s entrance on the presidential race is yet to be determined – Nate Silver of the New York Times observed that Ryan gave Romney’s polling numbers a smaller boost than the average vice-presidential selection. Additionally, there are other aspects of Ryan’s plan (such as the rapid cuts to Medicaid services) which will likely become more contentious as Election Day nears. Realities of the Electoral College make it unlikely that Romney or Ryan will take ofﬁce next January. However, Ryan’s vice-presidential nomination could still greatly alter the course of our nation by forcing the United States to confront its Medicare dilemma. “The end of Medicare as we know it” is coming whether we like it or not. The question is how best to reform the system for future generations of American citizens, and on that front, Ryan’s plan is the best solution available.