CBO looks at RyanCare

at 06:28 PM ET, 04/05/2011

The Congressional Budget Office has released its preliminary analysis (PDF) of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget, and I wouldn’t say it’s pretty. According to the CBO, Medicare beneficiaries will be left paying more for less. The CBO goes about this in a bit of a confusing way, setting a “benchmark” that corresponds to the cost of purchasing a private plan equivalent to Medicare, and then seeing how much more that plan would cost than Medicare under two different scenarios. Compared with either scenario, RyanCare costs a lot more than Medicare:

Under the proposal, most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system. For a typical 65-year-old with average health spending enrolled in a plan with benefits similar to those currently provided by Medicare, the CBO estimated the beneficiary’s spending on premiums and out-of-pocket expenditures as a share of a benchmark: what total health-care spending would be if a private insurer covered the beneficiary. By 2030, the beneficiary’s spending would be 68 percent of that benchmark under the proposal, 25 percent under the extended-baseline scenario, and 30 percent under the alternative fiscal scenario.

If Medicare’s beneficiaries are getting less for more, Medicaid’s are simply getting less, period:

Federal payments for Medicaid under the proposal would be substantially smaller than currently projected amounts. States would have additional flexibility to design and manage their Medicaid programs, and they might achieve greater efficiencies in the delivery of care than under current law. Even with additional flexibility, however, the large projected reduction in payments would probably require states to decrease payments to Medicaid providers, reduce eligibility for Medicaid, provide less extensive coverage to beneficiaries, or pay more themselves than would be the case under current law.

As the CBO recognizes, a lot of what Ryan is doing isn’t saving money so much as shifting costs. Poor people and seniors don’t need less health care because Medicare and Medicaid are providing less health care. They just have to pay for more of it on their own. And as the CBO says, it’s hard to imagine Congress simply ignoring their pleas for help:

Under the proposal analyzed here, debt would eventually shrink relative to the size of the economy — but the gradually increasing number of Medicare beneficiaries participating in the new premium support program would bear a much larger share of their health care costs than they would under the current program; payments to physicians and other providers for services provided under the traditional Medicare program would be restrained (as under the two scenarios); states would have to pay substantially more for their Medicaid programs or tightly constrain spending for those programs; and spending for federal programs other than Social Security and the major health care programs would be reduced far below historical levels relative to GDP. It is unclear whether and how future lawmakers would address the pressures resulting from the long-term scenarios or the proposal analyzed here.

 
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