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Sen. Ron Wyden (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

You can read the details here, but the new Ron Wyden-Paul Ryan Medicare plan isn't really a plan to save Medicare: it's a plan to end Medicare as we know it. The key difference between their plan and the plan passed by House Republicans last April is that in addition to providing vouchers for private insurance, they would allow seniors to purchase subsidized insurance directly from the government—a public option.

Wyden and Ryan are calling this public option "traditional Medicare," but that's a textbook example of dishonest labeling. Whether you're for it or against it, there's no question but that this plan eliminates traditional Medicare as it exists today and replaces it with a voucher-based system for providing health care to seniors.

Wyden and Ryan claim this will save money because private insurers will compete for customers, but Medicare as a single-payer system is more efficient than private insurance. If the Wyden-Ryan plan saves money, it will do so by denying care to seniors and shifting the cost burden away from Medicare and towards the elderly. That might be good for the Federal budget, but it's not good for America.

Beyond putting his weight behind a bad idea, Wyden is giving Republicans an opportunity to gain some bipartisan cover for having voted to end Medicare as we know it. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are certainly thrilled because the Wyden-Ryan plan is basically the exact same thing as the plans they've proposed. If it ever comes up for a vote, Democrats need reject it. To do otherwise would not only put them on the wrong side of the issue, but it deliver a political gift of epic proportions to the GOP.

7:59 AM PT: Shorter version of what I'm saying from an anonymous Democratic aide:

“For starters, this is bad policy and a complete political loser,” this aide said. “On top of the terrible politics, they even admit that it dismantles Medicare but achieves no budgetary savings while doing so — the worst of all worlds. Thanks for nothing.”
Good words. Now we need Democratic leadership and the White House saying the same thing.

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