House Republicans have been touting Medicare reform as a necessary part of improving the nation's financial health.
It's one thing to take that stance while haggling over the budget during the summer of a non-election year. But the 2012 election cycle isn't far off, and a recent poll says the reform isn't favored by the majority of Americans.
No matter, says Rep. Mike Pompeo, the GOP freshman congressman from Wichita. During a trip to his home district this week, he said he's sticking to support of the Republicans' Medicare proposal.
"Oh, yes, most certainly," Pompeo said at his 4th District office on East Kellogg. "If someone identifies a better solution, I'm happy to accept a superior solution.
"But right now, the solution I think that is most likely to solve our health challenge for seniors in the future is the one that we've presented."
Pompeo said he doubts Medicare reform will end up being part of the spending cuts this year to lower the nation's overall debt.
But the issue will remain out there as lawmakers grapple with trying to keep Medicare solvent.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, has claimed Medicare will go bankrupt in nine years. But the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees said that might not actually happen until 2029.
"It's not worth arguing whether it's 2016, 2020 or 2024," Pompeo said.
The important thing, he said, is that Medicare be addressed now.
Pompeo said he regularly hears from constituents who are concerned about the future of Medicare.
The Medicare reform is part of a fiscal blueprint drafted by Ryan. Medicare is a social insurance program run by the federal government for eligible citizens 65 and over, or those under 65 who have certain disabilities.
Under the House Republican plan, Medicare wouldn't be any different than it is now for those 55 and older. For those under 55, when they become eligible at age 65 in 2022, they would get a federal subsidy — or "premium-support payment," as Ryan calls it — to help them buy a private insurance plan through a new Medicare exchange.
The exchange would offer plans only to seniors, and those plans would be required to provide a certain level of standard benefits. Insurance companies would be required to cover anyone who wanted a plan and to charge the same premium for those of the same age.
The average subsidy would be $8,000 in 2022. Those with higher incomes would pay more out of their own pocket. The subsidies also would vary depending on health status.
President Obama has criticized the plan, saying it would throw Medicare beneficiaries to the open insurance market. Supporters counter by saying that seniors would be buying coverage through the special marketplace in the exchange.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted in late May showed that 58 percent of respondents oppose the plan and 35 percent support it.
Opposition was highest among senior citizens, at 74 percent, even though those 55 and older aren't affected by the proposal.
In April, the House supported Ryan's budget plan, 235-189 with every Democrat voting no. The Democrat-led Senate rejected it, 57-40. Some Republicans voted against it, saying it wasn't conservative enough.
On the same day, the Senate unanimously rejected Obama's budget. Democrats say they weren't willing to support it after Obama discussed presenting a more ambitious plan.
Those budget votes have been symbolic, said Russell Fox, a political science professor at Friends University.
He said they were votes taken for campaigning or for negotiating in committees.
"No one expected those votes to actually contribute directly to the final results," Fox said.