House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin introduced the Republicans' 2012 budget proposal that plans to cut $6 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years. But Ryan's plan, which the GOP dubbed the "Path to Prosperity" includes significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid, government subsidized healthcare programs.
According to Ryan's plan, Medicaid, an insurance program for low income families, would be converted into block grants distributed to states and designed to give governors more flexibility. But critics argue states will receive less funding for the program. Ryan projects the savings from this change to be $750 billion. The plan would also transform Medicare, the federal healthcare program for citizens over the age of 65, into what Ryan calls a "premium support model" whereby Medicare recipients choose a plan from a list of coverage options and the subsidized payments would go directly to the insurance provider instead of the beneficiary. Ryan does not consider this change to Medicare, which would go into effect in 2022, to be a voucher program, but a system that ends the "blank-check nature of the Medicare subsidy," he wrote Tuesday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Critics are concerned about a lower quality of coverage under this proposed Medicare reform. Still Ryan argues that the current system "creates inexcusable levels of waste."
At a press conference Tuesday, Ryan said the plan gives future generations "a budget that makes health retirement security something that's real." Since Republicans are likely to face an uphill battle in gaining support from recipients of these popular healthcare programs, Ryan framed the proposal as a "moral responsibility to step in and provide the leadership that the president has not been providing." In a statement released Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner called the plan "worthy of the American people" and one that sets "strict budget caps that limit federal spending on annual basis."
The Democratic backlash to the GOP plan has already begun, and lawmakers criticized the changes to Medicare and Medicaid as threatening to senior citizens. Democratic Conference Secretary Sen. Patty Murray said the plan would shut down Medicare. "We draw the line at penalizing seniors and children for an economic mess they did not create," said Murray in a statement. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich said the plan puts seniors' health at risk. In a statement, Begich said the proposal "is not a plan about long-term security, but about political ploys and instigating fear." On Twitter, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the budget "A path to poverty for America's seniors."