PLATTSBURGH — Ever since Congressman Paul Ryan was selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket, his controversial stance on Medicare has been grabbing headlines.
The issue has spilled over into other races, including the contest for the 21st Congressional District in the North Country.
Incumbent Democrat Bill Owens has been pressuring challenger Republican Matt Doheny for the past few weeks to come out with his platform on how the expensive Medicare program should be handled.
Doheny answered the call this week with a detailed presentation on Medicare, which Owens promptly criticized.
Doheny’s plan calls for six main ideas that he believes will make the program better.
One of them calls for allowing private companies into the system.
“Medicare should welcome competition, just like the program that members of Congress use for their benefits,” Doheny said in his statement.
“Market forces have been proven to constrain costs. 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 went on to say that the federal government should pay insurers directly in all instances.
“This is not a voucher program,” he said.
But Owens said it sounds very much like the voucher program that Congressman Ryan supports.
“He is saying it is not a voucher program, but it is a distinction without a difference,” Owens said.
“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.”
Owens said privatizing the program is not the way.
“My opponent wants to turn Medicare into subsidized private insurance,” he said. “Paul Ryan and Matt Doheny have their priorities wrong. We need to strengthen Medicare and reduce costs to ensure better outcomes.”
But, Doheny, an investor from Watertown, said that private plans competing against traditional Medicare will have a strong incentive to root out waste, fraud and abuse to reduce costs.
Doheny’s ideas also call for aligning Medicare incentives by combining Parts A (inpatient) and B (outpatient) into a single deductible to reduce the incentive for providers to push beneficiaries toward expensive hospitalizations.
He wants to explore incrementally increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67 because Americans are living longer.
Doheny also wants to look at increasing caps on out-of-pocket costs for those with the ability to pay more.
“It makes no sense to consider raising taxes to pay for a continued subsidy for this group,” he said.
Doheny did say that the Part D program for prescription drugs should continue on a voluntary basis and that the so-called “doughnut hole” should remain closed. The doughnut hole is a gap in prescription-drug coverage that forces seniors to pay more out of pocket for drugs.
To further reduce debt, Doheny said, Congress should repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act, known to many as Obamacare, but keep health insurance up to age 26 for children; increase competition by allowing purchasing across state lines; help doctors reduce the cost of practicing medicine; improve doctor recruitment in rural areas; and give hospitals more flexibility.
Doheny said that raising the payroll tax by an immediate 47 percent to reduce the Medicare deficit, as has been discussed, would be devastating to the economy.
“I offer these ideas for addressing the challenge of the current Medicare crisis and look forward to a rational and spirited discussion as we work to save and protect this program so important to those that depend on it,” he said.
Email Joe LoTemplio: firstname.lastname@example.org