Santorum: Ryan Right on Medicare; Pawlenty: I'll Have My Own Plan; Gingrich: ‘Slow Down’

June 13, 2011 - 11:43 PM

New Hampshire presidential debate

From left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and businessman Herman Cain stand on stage before first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Monday, June 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

(CNSNews.com) - Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) drew a sharp distinction between himself and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) in the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire Monday night when he firmly endorsed House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R.-Wis.) Medicare reform plan immediately after Gingrich reiterated his reservations about the plan.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he will have his own Medicare reform plan.

After Gingrich said Republicans should “slow down” on Medicare reform and that there were “certain things” he would do differently than Ryan in reforming Medicare, debate moderator John King of CNN asked Santorum if Republicans should slow down.

Santorum said, “No.”

“We have a $1.4 trillion deficit and it isn’t getting any better any time soon. We have to deal with this problem now,” said Santorum. “And what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which I wholeheartedly support, is to use a program that is identical to what seniors already have. It is called Medicare Part D.”

Medicare Part D is the Medicare prescription drug program.

“They have a program right now which seniors like. It is a program that is called a premium support program,” said Santorum. “You give seniors, depending on income, a certain amount of money so they can go out and they can purchase health care that they want that helps them. And this is the key, John: We need to include seniors in controlling costs.”

Santorum said that Obamacare is about to put in place the exact opposite: a system in which the government controls costs through rationing.

“What President Obama has done is he put in, in the Obamacare bill, the Independent Payment Advisory Board,” said Santorum. “Ladies and gentleman, seniors, Medicare is going to be cut starting in 2014 by the federal government and it is going to be rationing of care from the top down.

“What Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum want to do—which is not radical—which is take a program, Medicare Prescription Drug, that is 41 percent under budget because seniors are involved in controlling costs and apply it all to Medicare,” said Santorum.

“It is the right approach for Medicare,” Santorum concluded.

The exchange began when moderator King confronted Gingrich with his recent statement on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Rep. Ryan’s Medicare reform plan was “right-wing social engineering.”

Under Ryan’s plan, which was included as a long-term goal in the budget passed by the Republican-controlled House earlier this year, Americans over 55 would get to keep the current Medicare program. Americans younger than that would be given a federal subsidy to help them purchase their own guaranteed health-insurance plan. The subsidy would be larger for poorer people and people who were ill.

King asked Gingrich why he had backed off of his original criticism that this plan was “right-wing social engineering.”

“Well, first of all it was a very narrow question which said: Should Republicans impose an unpopular bill on the American people?” said Gingrich.  “Now, I supported the Ryan budget as a general proposal. I actually wrote a newsletter supporting the Ryan budget. And those words were taken completely out of context. I am happy to repeat them. If you are dealing with something that is as big as Medicare and you can’t have a conversation with the country where the country thinks what you are doing is the right thing, you better slow down.

“Remember, we all got mad at Obama because he ran over us when we said don’t do it,” said Gingrich. “Well, the Republicans ought to follow the same ground rule. If you cannot convince the American people it’s a good idea, maybe it is not a good idea. So let me start with that. Second, there are certain things I would do different than Paul Ryan on Medicare. I agree strongly with him on Medicaid.”

Gingrich did say he supported a reform proposed by Rep. Tom Price (R.-Ga.) and that he believed billions could be saved by stopping fraudulent Medicare payments.

"Congressman Tom Price has a very good bill in that would allow private contracting so those people who want to voluntarily could contract with their doctor or their hospital in addition to Medicare, and it would be outside the current system and it would relieve the pricing pressure on the current system," said Gingrich.

"We did a study called 'Stop Paying the Crooks.' We think you can save $70 billion to $120 billion in Medicare and Medicaid annually by not paying crooks," he said.

Pawlenty said that Medicare is not solvent and needs to be reformed but--as in the Ryan plan--people at or near retirement should not be impacted by a change. Pawlenty said he will present his own plan to deal with the problem.

"People have made plans, particularly people who are on the program now or close to eligibility," said Pawlenty. "We should keep our word to people that we've made promises to.

"So under my proposal, if you're on the program or near the program, we'll keep our word," he said. "But we also have to recognize what Congressman Paul just said. There was a recent report out that the premiums for Medicare and the payroll withholdings are only paying about half the program. So it is not financially solvent. We have to fix it; we have to reform it.

"I'm going to have my own plan, that will feature some differences from Congressman Ryan's plan," said Pawlenty. "It will feature performance pay rather than just volume pay to hospitals and clinics and providers. It will allow Medicare to continue as an option, but it'll be priced against various other options that we're going to offer people, as well, and some other things."

Ryan’s budget calls for converting Medicaid into a block grant program for the states.

The Monday night debate among Republican presidential candidate was sponsored by CNN, WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader.