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Gibson, Owens wary of Medicare privatization

Late last month, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan began testing support for his idea to replace the federal Medicare program with a fixed payment to buy private plans.

The Republican from Wisconsin wants to provide current Medicare enrollees with a check which they could, in turn, use to purchase private care from a "menu" of coverage options.

During last fall's election, GOP candidates attacked Democrats for cutting Medicare.

But it's not clear whether a privatized version of the health care program will actually show up in the House GOP budget this spring. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner told the Associated Press in January that specifics on the fiscal plan are still in the works.

Top Democrats have already blasted Congressman Ryan for even suggesting privatized Medicare. Bill Owens, who represents New York's 23rd Congressional District, says privatization would "hurt" senior citizens.

"Somebody would have to show me that this is going to improve their care, reduce costs, and is not going to transfer the risk for health care to seniors," he said. "And I don't think they're going to be able to show that."

Owens says the push to privatize Medicare sounds similar to proposals last year to privatize Social Security.

"Obviously, we haven't seen anything yet - we have to see the details of the plan," he said. "Certainly, I'll read whatever is put in front of me in terms of information and a proposal. But it really looks, sounds, and smells like privatization of Social Security - they're just transferring it to a different program."

According to Owens, privatizing Medicare could also result in fewer benefits for senior citizens.

"They're talking about handing out a voucher, and then you'd buy your own plan," he said. "Well, if you're going to buy your own plan that would say to me that there are going to be differences in the coverages afforded to the patient. Therefore, they're transferring the risk to seniors for their health care."

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