WASHINGTON A senior U.S. Senate Republican
warned his party on Thursday against simultaneously overhauling
Medicare and the Obamacare health insurance program, saying this
would be "biting off more than you can chew."
The cautionary comments from Senator Lamar Alexander came
after House Speaker Paul Ryan, long an advocate of privatizing
Medicare, said Republican lawmakers would be discussing reforms
of the health insurance program for the elderly with
President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
Republicans won the White House as well as keeping their
majorities in both houses of Congress in elections last month,
and are now busy preparing an agenda for next year after the new
Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3 and Trump takes office Jan. 20.
"Well, of course it's up to the speaker and Senator (Mitch)
McConnell (the majority leader) what our agenda is, but my
advice to them would be, save Medicare for another day,"
Alexander, chairman of the Senate's health, education, labor and
pensions committee, told reporters in a Capitol hallway.
Medicare serves more than 50 million Americans who are
elderly or disabled. More than one-third of them are in Medicare
Advantage plans run by private insurers like UnitedHealth Group
Inc. The balance receive medical benefits directly from
Medicare on a traditional fee-for-service basis.
The government has been trying to cut spending on the
program, which rises each year with the cost of medical services
"We want to begin immediately to repeal Obamacare,"
Alexander said. "Trying to deal with the solvency issues in
Medicare at the same time falls into the category of biting off
more than you can chew ... a little humility here would be in
order, we can't do everything at once and we shouldn't try."
Ryan earlier Thursday said that Medicare was on a path to
going bankrupt around 2028, and needed reform, a repeat of his
long-standing stance. He wants to convert the fee-for-service
program into a system of subsidies for seniors, to buy coverage
from private insurers or a scaled-back Medicare.
Democrats including Senator Chuck Schumer have seized on the
fact that Trump's nominee to head the Health and Human Services
department - Representative Tom Price - supports major changes
to Medicare, to warn Republicans against privatizing the
Alexander also said that while Republicans will move quickly
to repeal Obamacare, the repeal probably would not take effect
for two or three years, during which time lawmakers can work on
a replacement plan.