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Scott Brown: I won't back Paul Ryan Medicare plan

Mass. Sen. Scott Brown on The Early Show on Feb. 21, 2011
Mass. Sen. Scott Brown. CBS

Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown said on Monday he would vote against Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to reform Medicare, citing fears that the plan would require seniors to bear a disproportionate burden of its costs and put them at risk of not being able to afford coverage.

In an op-ed for Politico, Brown praised Ryan for "getting the conversation started," but argued that Medicare could be reformed without completely overhauling the system.

"We can work inside of Medicare to make it more solvent," Brown said.

Brown's criticism of Ryan's proposal, which aims to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system, somewhat mirrors the complaints Democrats have leveled at the proposal. He argues that the government subsidy to purchase health insurance might not keep pace with rising costs, leaving the elderly unable to pay their full health care costs.

"I fear that as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support -- and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays," he wrote. "Protecting those who have been counting on the current system their entire adult lives should be the key principle of reform."

The moderate Massachusetts Republican -- who is facing a potentially difficult reelection campaign in 2012 -- added that the system couldn't afford to take any more hits.

"Medicare has already taken significant cuts to help pay for Obama's health care plan. The president and Congress cut a half trillion dollars to the private side of Medicare -- meaning seniors are at risk of losing their Medicare Advantage coverage," he wrote.

Brown contended that there were plenty of ways to reform the system from within, including by eliminating Medicare fraud.

"The Government Accountability Office [GAO] has estimated that nearly 10 percent, or $47 billion, of annual Medicare spending is nothing but waste, fraud or abuse. Attorney General Eric Holder has put the number higher -- at $60 billion. We need Medicare administrators to work to prevent these improper payments -- instead of the existing 'pay and chase' model that makes the system so susceptible to fraud," he said. "We can also find savings by increasing congressional oversight of how Medicare reimburses providers; as well as improving the quality of medical care to seniors."

"We should start by making improvements to the traditional Medicare plan," Brown added.

Brown's resolution to vote against Ryan's proposed 2012 budget comes as a change in position on the issue: Less than a month ago, he vowed that he would support the proposal.

"The leaders will bring forward [Ryan's] budget, and I will vote for it, and it will fail," Brown said on May 14, according to the Daily News of Newburyport. "Then the president will bring forward his budget, and it will fail."

Despite early GOP support for the proposed 2012 budget, Ryan's proposal for reforming Medicare has caused concern among Republicans, a handful of who are withholding their support due to fears about alienating voters.

Brown is one of few prominent Republicans, however, to explicitly state his opposition. Newt Gingrich, who slammed the plan as "radical" and "right-wing social engineering," later walked back his criticism of the proposal after a skewering by conservatives.