WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Wednesday that we ought to phase out Medicare, the federal program that provides health insurance to Americans once they're 65.
"We need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits," Bush said. "But we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something, because they're not going to have anything."
Bush praised Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for proposing to change Medicare to a system that gives seniors medical vouchers instead of paying their bills directly. He also lamented that "the left" reacted with an ad showing a Paul lookalike pushing an old lady's wheelchair off a cliff.
Since 2011, Ryan's name has been closely associated with his Medicare plan, which Democrats have said would "end Medicare as we know it." Nevertheless, the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012 didn't endorse the plan even after adding Ryan to the ticket as a vice presidential candidate.
"Many people are afraid to act because they’re fearful of just getting beat up politically," Bush said at an Americans for Prosperity event in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Arguments for major overhauls of Medicare hinge on the notion that the program must be significantly scaled back because of rising spending.
However, the latest report on the fiscal health of the program, which Medicare's trustees issued on Wednesday, didn’t communicate such a sense of urgency. The part of Medicare that pays for hospital care and related services will remain solvent until 2030, even as waves of retiring Baby Boomers sign on, the report projects. It also predicts that Medicare costs will rise more slowly than previously believed.
The Democratic National Committee eagerly put Bush's remarks about Medicare on YouTube. Bush's comments show he's out to get seniors, liberal groups said.
A decade ago, another Bush floated a plan to dramatically alter a safety-net entitlement for senior citizens. President George W. Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security -- which anticipated Medicare proposals like Ryan’s -- failed to attract the support of the public or the Republicans who controlled Congress at the time, in spite of months of lobbying and public events touting the proposal.
This story has been updated to include a response from the Bush campaign.