Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Plan to Expand Health Care Choices

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) have introduced a proposal that they say would strengthen Medicare and, in the process, expand health care choices for seniors, individuals under 65, and small businesses.

Wyden and Ryan said that their plan, “Guaranteed Choices to Strengthen Medicare and Health Security for All: Bipartisan Options for the Future,” would strengthen traditional Medicare by permanently maintaining it as a guaranteed and viable option for all of the nation’s retirees. In addition, it would expand choice for seniors by allowing the private sector to compete with Medicare in an effort to offer seniors better quality and more-affordable health care choices.

Sen. Wyden said in a statement: “Guaranteeing a future for traditional Medicare is a big challenge, and it is our hope that outlining areas where Democrats and Republicans can reach agreement will help Congress rise to that challenge.”

Included in the Wyden-Ryan plan are reforms that would allow any small business with up to 100 workers to offer its employees the option of opting out of the employer-sponsored plan and using the amount that an employer contributes toward their health coverage to purchase their own health insurance. If that option is cheaper than an employer’s plan, the employees could pocket the difference. The cost would be fully tax deductible to the employer. It would also allow individuals to keep one insurance product as they transition from their working years into retirement and would ease seniors’ transition into Medicare.

The Wyden-Plan is not without its vocal critics. The White House said the proposal would undermine the health care program for seniors and disabled people, leaving it to “wither on the vine,” as reported by the Washington Post.

In response, Jennifer Hoelzer, communications director and deputy chief of staff for Sen. Wyden, issued the following statement: The idea that Ron Wyden — who has been a seniors' rights advocate since he was 28 years old — would coauthor a plan to undermine the most important federal safety net for seniors is ridiculous…. We are not saying that private plans will be able to offer higher quality more affordable benefits than Medicare, rather we are saying that they should have an opportunity to try.  Moreover, under our system not a single senior would be required to purchase health insurance from a private company, we just give them the option of choosing such a plan if it does a better job of meeting their regional, health or economic needs.”