Tim Pawlenty on Ryan's Medicare Plan: I'll Have My Own Proposal

The former governor and 2012 presidential candidate doesn't sound like he wants to end the fee-for-service system

Republican presidential candidates can expect to get hounded by questions on Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) plan to overhaul Medicare. Do they support it? Would they sign it into law if given the chance? Overhauling Medicare is controversial, and the Democratic win in New York's special congressional election last night will only increase the political pressure on Republicans to choose their words carefully.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, one of those 2012 candidates, gave his own answer today during a question-and-answer session following a speech at The Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank in downtown Washington, D.C. He didn't offer any specifics, but it sounds like he opposes the basic outline of Ryan's proposed overhaul.

"The direction of it is positive, but I'm going to have my own plan. Some things are going to be the same, some things are going to be different," Pawlenty said about Ryan's budget plan.

"There will be some differences," Pawlenty said, on the topic of Medicare specifically. "We'll be talking about payment reform and paying providers ... [letting people] choose to stay on the current program or [choose] other options," he said.

"It'll be different from Congressman Ryan's plan, and we'll have it for you in the not-too-distant future," the former governor added.

One difference Pawlenty made clear: that he plans to gradually raise the Social-Security retirement age. Ryan's plan does not do that.

While Pawlenty didn't offer any specifics, it was clear from his remarks that he does not favor Ryan's preferred way of addressing projected soaring Medicare costs. Ryan has proposed eliminating Medicare's fee-for-service structure, under which Medicare pays doctors directly for health care delivered to Medicare patients, and instead wants the program to give seniors money to buy their own private insurance plans.

Given that Pawlenty mentioned "payment reform," it's probably safe to assume his plan will maintain Medicare's fee-for-service option, with reforms, and that Medicare will still pay doctors directly under Pawlenty's plan, at least for some seniors.

Democrats had been pressing Pawlenty, through public statements and press releases, to say definitively whether or not he would sign Ryan's Medicare plan if it reached his desk as president. Until today, they hadn't gotten an answer. Now they have, kind of.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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