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Congressmen, challengers spar over Medicare plan

Published: Wed, March 21, 2012 @ 12:07 a.m.





By David Skolnick



With the unveiling of the proposed Republican budget bill that significantly impacts Medicare, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and his Democratic challenger took shots at each other over their positions on the senior health-care program.

Ex-U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, a Democrat from St. Clairsville who lost to Johnson in the 2010 election, said the Republican incumbent’s vote for the bill, released Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, “would kill Medicare as we know it today. Seniors will pay the price while millionaires will benefit.”

During a Tuesday interview with The Vindicator, Wilson said the proposed bill is “the wrong way to go, but it shows the thinking of the Republican Party.”

Rather than eliminate tax cuts to the wealthy, Wilson said Johnson and other Republicans want seniors to pay more for Medicare.

Though this bill will be a major campaign issue nationwide, it’s unlikely to go further than the Republican-controlled House. The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate opposes the bill as does President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 41 incumbent Republican House members, including Johnson, with automated phone calls urging residents to call congressmen to oppose the proposed Medicare plan.

The plan doesn’t change Medicare for those at least 55 years old. Neither Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, who is 57 years old, nor Wilson, who is 69, would be affected by the bill.

For those under 55, the plan would provide a set amount of money for future Medicare beneficiaries to purchase a private health plan or the traditional government-administered program through a new Medicare exchange, starting in 2023, according to the Associated Press.

Also, the plan gradually increases the eligibility age beginning in 2034, from 65 to 67.

If nothing is done, Medicare will be bankrupt in a decade, Johnson told The Vindicator.

“It’s laughable that Charlie Wilson would attack the Ryan budget,” Johnson said. Wilson “voted for the president’s takeover of our health system.”

That health-care law cut $500 billion from Medicare, Johnson said.

Wilson said the Ryan proposal would provide an $8,000 annual voucher, for each Medicare participant for health costs, which isn’t enough for many seniors.

The Ryan proposal isn’t a voucher system, but a premium-supported program, Johnson said. The congressman’s staff said the $8,000 figure is an average that someone would receive under the plan and not a cap.

Seniors “will choose a plan,” Johnson said. “Charlie Wilson says we’re choosing millionaires over seniors. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Wilson and Johnson criticized each other for voting lock-step with their party leaders to the detriment of their constituents.

Like Wilson and most Democrats, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, said this proposal “shows that congressional Republicans have learned nothing from the past 10 years, and it gives a clear picture of their priorities: The wealthy get lower taxes while the middle class and seniors get higher taxes and higher Medicare costs.”

The Republican proposal is designed to “re-create the divisiveness we saw last year in Congress,” he said.

Marisha Agana of Howland, Ryan’s Republican challenger and a pediatrician, commended Paul Ryan “for the brave attempt to address the problem of looming insolvency of the Medicare program in our country by proposing a national budget that will overhaul the system in the next decade.”

The proposal, she said, is “a step in the right direction. We cannot continue to ignore this problem.”

Agana said the federal government needs to gain control over fraudulent companies that “plague our current Medicare system.”

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