Saturday, May 28 , 2016, 3:51 pm | Partly Cloudy 64º

Rep. Lois Capps: ‘Ryan Budget’ a Bad Deal for Seniors, Families

In addition to ending key health benefits and cost savings for Medicare recipients, it proposes deep cuts to education, transportation and housing

By Rep. Lois Capps |

Last week, the vice presidential candidates took center stage for their only debate in this election. I hope all Central Coast voters tuned in and took advantage of this opportunity to examine each candidate’s record and plan for our future.

Rep. Lois Capps
Rep. Lois Capps

We heard the candidates discuss “the Paul Ryan budget” adopted by House Republicans. The Ryan budget would end Medicare as we know it, and that’s why I strongly oppose this plan and have already voted against it.

Here on the Central Coast, my opponent is campaigning with the main supporters of the Ryan budget and, if elected, his first vote in the House of Representatives will be for these same Republican leaders to control the House agenda. Abel Maldonado has benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV advertising from super PACs controlled by House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Karl Rove.

The Ryan budget would first let the Medicare Trust Fund go insolvent in 2016. Then it would radically replace Medicare’s guarantee of quality and affordable care for seniors with a voucher to pay for part of a health plan on the private market, if seniors can find a plan that will take them.

By design, the value of the voucher would not increase enough to keep up with health-care costs, and that means health-care costs would be shifted from Medicare to seniors, whether they can afford it or not. It is estimated that the average senior would pay up to $6,400 more for his or her health care.

This is why AARP opposes the Ryan plan, saying it “simply shifts high and growing health-care costs onto Medicare beneficiaries.”

And while Ryan’s voucher plan would theoretically run alongside traditional Medicare, this plan has terrible consequences for seniors. Insurance companies would cherry pick the youngest and healthiest seniors, leaving older and less healthy seniors in traditional Medicare. Traditional Medicare would become more expensive — for taxpayers and for seniors — as its beneficiaries become increasingly elderly and frail. And seniors who pick the voucher plan would have a harder time seeing the provider of their choice, if they can find a plan at all.

This is why the American Hospital Association said Ryan’s Medicare policy “will severely impact access to care for our most vulnerable patients.”

An argument you heard from Ryan is that these changes won’t affect current seniors. Don’t believe it. Ryan’s plan would repeal the free preventive care for Medicare enrollees, including cancer screenings and wellness physicals, provided by the new health-care reform law. These benefits save the average Medicare beneficiary $4,200 over the next decade — and Ryan proposes to end these important health benefits and cost savings.

Similarly, Medicare’s “doughnut hole” is closing, saving 60,000 Central Coast seniors an average of $600 on prescription drugs in 2011 alone. But the Ryan plan would reopen the doughnut hole and cost seniors more for prescription drugs.

The facts are clear: Medicare is now stronger because of the Affordable Care Act that I helped write and voted for. Health-care reform extended the Medicare Trust Fund by eight years by eliminating hundreds of billions of dollars in overpayments to private insurance companies, cracking down on fraud, and holding down payments to drug companies and other providers. Conversely, the Ryan budget’s repeal of health-care reform would make the trust fund insolvent by 2016. That is irresponsible.

But ending Medicare as we know is not the only problem with the Ryan budget.

It would also make deep cuts to Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), cutting the program by one-third over the next 10 years and dismantling nursing home care for many Central Coast seniors. Medicaid provides two-thirds of the nursing home care for seniors who are eligible for the program.

The Ryan plan would also make deep cuts to education, transportation and housing. I’m particularly concerned that it would shortchange our students by cutting Pell Grants. In contrast, I’ve doubled funding for Pell Grants because they help so many Central Coast students afford college and get the skills they need to compete in this new global economy.

And, because the Ryan plan would also provide huge tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy, it wouldn’t even balance the federal budget for 28 years — if at all.

For all these reasons I’m strongly opposed to the Ryan budget. It’s the wrong plan for Central Coast seniors, and it’s the wrong plan for all Central Coast families.

I hope you’ll consider these points as you watch the upcoming presidential debates.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, represents California’s 23rd Congressional District.

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