(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said the Republicans’ new Medicare reform plan is “kryptonite” to Democrats, as he and his colleagues unveiled a bill Thursday that will put seniors into the same health-care system as their representatives in Congress.
“(T)his is the type of thing that is basically kryptonite to a Democrat because it gives people choices, it gives them freedom and it takes some out from under that manipulative umbrella of the Democratic Party,” DeMint said.
DeMint's comments came at a Capitol Hill press conference alongside Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to introduce The Congressional Health Care for Seniors Act.
The bill would enroll all seniors into the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) enjoyed by members of Congress and government workers, and will subsidize 75 percent of the cost of the average plan.
DeMint said Democrats will not support Paul’s plan because it allows for competition by giving seniors the choice between the 250 health plans in FEHBP, limiting government control.
“A dependent voter is a dependable vote” to the Democrats, he said.
“If you want to understand the motivation of the Democrats it’s not going to be that this is not a good plan, because again, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be on it,” DeMint said. “But what they don’t like about it is the government loses some control over Medicare.”
“It’s less of a political tool every year because everyone has their own plans,” he said. “And it’s basically on autopilot where just like our plans the premium support will rise with inflation, I think, is the way it’s set up. But they don’t want this because they know a dependent voter is a dependable vote.”
Under the plan, all seniors would be accepted into the federal employees plan and pay the same premium, regardless of health status or preexisting conditions.
It would also create a pool for the costliest 5 percent of patients, rewarding plans that enroll high-risk patients with a direct reimbursement from the federal government.
Age adjustment and means testing would also be added to Medicare, which Republicans say would save $1 trillion in the first 10 years of the new program.
Beginning in 2014, the eligibility age (currently at 65) would go up 3 months per year until capped at age 70 in 2040.
Seniors with income of more than $1 million per year would receive no subsidy from the government for their health care. Retirees with income between $200,000 and $1 million would receive a 15 percent subsidy, and those between $100,000 and $200,000 would be subsidized 30 percent.
Ironically, Paul began the conference by thanking a Democrat for the idea behind the bill.
“I’d also like to thank (Sen.) John Kerry (D-Mass.) for letting us borrow the idea,” he said. “This was his campaign -- part of his campaign platform -- in 2004, to put folks into the congressional health care plan.
“We have sent him the specifics of this plan -- we have sent and talked to and sat down with many Democrats on this plan,” he said. “We would love for you to ask Senator Kerry if he’s going to support his own plan.”
DeMint predicted Democrats would not sign on to the plan.
“I’m sure our Democrat friends will distort what they, in fact, have suggested, including Barack Obama, that we need to give seniors what we give Congressmen,” said “It’s here. Let’s see how many Democrats actually sign up.”
The GOP senators argued the time is now to reform the program that will reach insolvency by 2024, according to Medicare trustees.
“We are not willing to wait till after the next election to fix the entitlements,” Paul said. “The entitlements are broken; it’s not Republicans fault; it’s not Democrats fault. I tell people it’s your grandparent’s fault for having too many kids and then your fault for not having enough kids.
“It’s a demographic problem,” he added, pointing out that in 1935 there were 42 workers for every one retiree. Today only three workers support each retiree.
“Politicians in Washington have starved Medicare to death,” DeMnt said. “It is not going to be there in 5 or 10 years if we don’t do anything.”
He said the challenge for Republicans will be to convince seniors that the plan is the right one.
“The president and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid have been licking their chops for years now waiting for Republicans to actually try to deal with the large problem, like Medicare,” Demint said. “So this is the moment they’ve been waiting for. But I think if Americans actually find out the truth of what we’re doing it will be a very big positive for Republicans in the fall.”
“We have to convince them [seniors] this is something better,” he said.
“I would say to those who are afraid of change, change is coming,” said Graham. “Let’s just control how it comes instead of have a crash landing let’s create a bridge to a new system.”
Republicans said their reforms would save $1,500 per year in out-of-pocket costs for Medicare enrollees, and save the country $16 trillion in unfunded liabilities in 75 years, while providing “richer benefits, higher quality health care” and “better access to doctors,” according to a release from Paul’s office.
“Think about your country. Think about where we’ll be as a nation if something doesn’t change pretty quickly with these big programs,” said Graham. “You’re getting a better deal.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Kerry, meanwhile, says that what Republicans propose doing is different from what her her boss proposed.
“Senator Kerry did not propose to phase out Medicare and replace it with what federal employees have,” Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith told CNSNews.com.
“He proposed allowing uninsured Americans (not Medicare beneficiaries) to enroll in a plan modeled after FEHBP,” Smith said. “And he proposed offering tax credits to make that coverage affordable. But, since we passed the [Affordable Care Act] ACA, this proposal is no longer necessary.”
Smith added that Kerry proposed strengthening Medicare “by allowing the federal government to negotiate better prices for prescription drugs and to allow the program to better coordinate care for people with chronic conditions.”