MCT REGIONAL NEWS
By Ry Rivard
Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.
April 18--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said a Republican plan to reshape Medicare forced him to break with his party last week and vote against a GOP-backed budget that passed the House.
McKinley was one of only four Republicans to vote against the budget proposal created by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. No Democrats voted for the plan, saying Ryan's planned cuts to social programs like Medicare were far too steep. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voted for the plan.
"As it relates to the Medicare, I applaud what Paul Ryan was trying to do, because we need to have an adult conversation about it," McKinley said in a telephone interview Friday just following his vote.
But, he said, "Simply saying I encourage the dialogue doesn't mean I'll stay in lockstep with the leadership, but it (the no vote) was primarily over the Medicare issue."
Ryan's plan for Medicare is to turn it into a voucher system beginning in 2021 and give eligible seniors about $6,000 a year to buy their own health insurance. That would reduce the cost of the budget-busting entitlement program for seniors 65 and older, but it could also double Medicare costs for some seniors.
"The Congressional Budget Office determined that some of the out-of-pocket costs could double for seniors and that sent up a red flag for me that we need to look at it," he said.
The Ryan plan does not affect people who are already on Medicare or anyone who is currently 55 or older.
But McKinley said Ryan's plan made him "uncomfortable" because people that would be enrolling in Medicare just over a decade from now might not realize the costs they would face as they retire.
"I think we can do it another way and now I'm going to be curious to see what the Senate does," he said. "I want to be an independent voice here."
The Ryan plan passed the Republican-controlled House 235-193 and will likely receive a chilly reception in the Democrat-controlled Senate and has no chance of being signed into law by President Obama.
Capito's office said in a statement the congresswoman "still has questions" about the changes to Medicare, but she was quoted as backing the changes.
"This is a good first step," Capito said. "I am disheartened that some have used proposed reforms to the Medicare program as a political weapon. We have to reform Medicare in order to preserve it. Period."
Both parties have made Medicare a political issue in the past. Part of the Republican attacks on last year's health care reform law were changes it made to a program called Medicare Advantage, which provided supplements for some seniors on Medicare to buy extra coverage from private companies.
In April 2010, for instance, Capito herself attacked those changes.
"Many West Virginia seniors who currently rely on Medicare Advantage for their health care coverage will be forced to incur higher out-of-pocket spending for their health needs," she said at the time. "We should not be cutting a popular, successful health program that our seniors rely on to stay healthy and well."
In a statement to the Daily Mail on Sunday, Capito defended her vote for the Ryan plan.
"The reforms in the Medicare part of the budget are used to enhance Medicare for those under 55. In the Democrats' healthcare law, they cut Medicare to afford a giant government takeover of the healthcare system," Capito said in the statement.
"Also, this is a starting point to reform Medicare that will be broke in just a few years. I have expressed concerns with the specifics of the Ryan plan, but it's a good starting point."