WASHINGTON -- The Republican plan to privatize Medicare wouldn't touch his benefits, but Walter Dotson still doesn't like the idea. He worries about the consequences long after he's gone, for the grandson he is raising.
"I'd certainly hate to see him without the benefits that I've got," said Dotson, 72, steering a high school sophomore toward adulthood.
The loudest objections to the GOP Medicare plan are coming from seniors, who swung to Republicans in last year's congressional elections, and many have been complaining at town-hall meetings with their representatives during the current congressional recess. Some experts say GOP policymakers may have overlooked a defining trait among older people: concern for the next generations.
"I remember the days when we had poor farms and elderly people on welfare, before we had Social Security and Medicare for seniors, and I'm afraid it will lead right back to that situation," added Dotson, from the village of Cleveland in rural southwest Virginia.
Another nagging worry for seniors may have more to do with self-interest: If Congress can make such a major change to Medicare for future retirees, what's to stop lawmakers from coming back and applying it to everyone on the program now?
The budget passed earlier this month by House Republicans would replace Medicare with a government payment to buy private insurance, for people hitting age 65 in 2022 or later. Hailed as bold and visionary by some, the proposal is stirring opposition around the country, polls show. No group has been more negative than seniors, although GOP lawmakers carefully exempted anyone now 55 or older.
The plan's author, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says he thinks the main problem is that President Barack Obama and his allies have distorted the details to scare older people. It's actually going to take something like what he's proposing to save Medicare for future generations, Ryan maintains.
"Seniors, as soon as they realize this doesn't affect them, they are not so opposed," Ryan said in an interview.
A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that future retirees would pay much more under Ryan's plan than if they went into traditional Medicare. By 2030, a typical 65-year-old would be paying two-thirds of his or her health costs.
Ryan says the comparison isn't valid because Medicare is financially unsustainable in the long run.