Gail Collins / Paul Ryan and the middle-age blues

Why doesn't the GOP care about health care for 54-year-olds?!

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Paul Ryan is everywhere! Nobody can talk about anything but the congressman from Wisconsin. We now know he is the intellectual, spiritual and moral center of the House of Representatives, who keeps his body fat below 8 percent and excels at a sport that involves sticking your hand inside a catfish, grabbing it by the tonsils and pulling it out of the water. Also, I believe he may have been the guy who ran the men's relay race in the Olympics on a broken fibula.

Today, let's consider what the selection of Mr. Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate will mean to the American health care system. To start, there's good news for senior citizens: You can stop worrying! Neither Mr. Ryan nor Mr. Romney wants to change Medicare coverage for people over 55.

Also, the news media is going to quit calling you senior citizens. You are now Medicare Sensitive Voters.

Any other questions? Let's start with you over there in the corner -- the one jumping up and down and hysterically waving your arms.

I am 54! How come nobody cares about my health care?

As Mr. Romney said on "60 Minutes," the Republican ticket is "looking for young people down the road and saying, 'We're going to give you a bigger choice.'" So the good news is that: A) you are getting a choice, and B) you are now officially a young person.

No, I'm not! I am totally falling apart! And now you're telling me that people just one year older than me will get guaranteed government coverage that everybody likes, while I am going to be getting a choice? What if I don't want a choice?

Freedom is always good.

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

You are much too young to know that song. That's why Mr. Ryan doesn't want to let you have Medicare as we know it. To qualify for the current system, you'd have to be old enough to remember when Simon and Garfunkel were together.

But I'm glad you want to talk about Medicare. Now that Mr. Ryan is on the ticket, that's the topic of the hour. No more debates about Bain Capital. Really, unless someone discovers that Bain Capital secretly shelled the Golan Heights, that subject is off the table.

So, about Medicare. Why don't Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan want to let me have it?

You really are obsessed with that, aren't you? The National Republican Congressional Committee has warned all its candidates that whenever the subject comes up, they are to avoid mentioning "entitlement reform," or "privatization" or "every option is on the table." Instead, the keywords are: "strengthen, secure, save, preserve, protect."

So I suspect Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan would say that they want to change the current system in order to strengthen, secure, save, preserve and protect your future health care. Which will involve a lot of choices, even though every option is not on the table. Totally not. Basically, the Republican message is that it's President Barack Obama who is trying to destroy Medicare and that they will save it.

How do they think Mr. Obama is going to destroy it? Through Obamacare, the cause of everything that's wrong with the country today, possibly including forest fires and the helium shortage. The administration's theory is that new federal guidelines will force providers to be more efficient, reducing anticipated Medicare costs over the next 10 years by a little more than $700 billion.

The savings could be used to help provide health insurance coverage for the poor. That's the core of the GOP complaint. A new Romney ad tells older voters to think of it this way: "The money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that's not for you."

That sounds as if Mr. Romney believes old people are kind of selfish.

You think? Anyhow, under Paul Ryan's proposal, instead of simply getting Medicare, people like you will be given a voucher and told to choose from among a whole bunch of health care plans. The Ryan theory was that the competition would force providers to be more efficient, reducing anticipated Medicare costs over the next 10 years by a little more than $700 billion.

Wait a minute ...

I know. But that was before he joined the ticket. Now all talk of $700 billion in savings is being retracted, like a great catfish being yanked by the throat from its cozy burrow.

If you want my opinion, Mr. Ryan's passion for health care cost-cutting is actually not directed at Medicare so much as Medicaid. The seniors who could really take a hit would be the ones in nursing homes who've already run through their own savings.

That's my Aunt Flossie! What's going to happen to Aunt Flossie?

Do you have a spare bedroom?

opinion_commentary

Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.


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