If we don't end Medicare "as we know it," America "as we know it" is finished

Uncontrolled health spending isn’t simply crowding out other government programs; it’s also dampening overall living standards. Health economists Michael Chernew, Richard Hirth and David Cutler recently reported that higher health costs consumed 35.7 percent of the increase in per capita income from 1999 to 2007. They also project, that under reasonable assumptions, it could absorb half or more of the gain between now and 2083…

Under Ryan’s plan, incentives would shift. Medicare would no longer be an open ATM; the vouchers would limit total spending. Providers would face pressures to do more with less; there would certainly be charges that essential care was being denied. The Obama administration argues that better results can be achieved by modifying incentives within the existing system. Perhaps. But history suggests skepticism. Presidents since Jimmy Carter have made proposals to control spending, with meager results. From 1970 to 2008, Medicare spending per beneficiary increased an average of 9 percent annually.

It’s Ryan’s radicalism vs. President Obama’s tinkering. Which is realistic and which is wishful thinking? This important debate should rise above cheap political rhetoric. Burdened by runaway spending, Medicare “as we know it” is going to end. The only questions are when and on whose terms.