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Ryan offers health care alternatives

By Matt Pommer

Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is promoting an economic road map that would dramatically affect those younger than 55.

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 age 65.

Ryan’s road map 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.

Ryan, often mentioned as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, also is pushing the idea of giving people younger than 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 road map. And if someone dies before the money is used, it goes tax free to that person’s heirs.

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Ryan argues people 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, people would be at risk when the next recession or depression sweeps America. Exactly how the government will make whole any losses is subject to debate.

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

For those younger than 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 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.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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