As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the constitutionality of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (aka PPACA, or healthcare reform) and various GOP healthcare bills are deliberated, the healthcare plan spearheaded by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan has  emerged as one platform for 2012 presidential hopefuls to stake out their positions on the U.S. healthcare system.

Ryan’s plan, part of the GOP budget proposal for 2012, would establish insurance exchanges for Americans age 55 and older and subsidize their purchase of a private insurance policy based on their income through vouchers. Republicans backing the plan say it would help cut the federal budget deficit by $5 trillion over the next 10 years.

Among other concerns, critics point out that the value of those vouchers would rise only as fast as overall consumer inflation, which has beeen outpaced by the rise in health costs for years, a result that would leave beneficiaries on the hook for rising health costs. Mindful of the political risks, most Republican presidential hopefuls treaded gingerly after Ryan and supporting House Republicans unveiled the plan.

A US News report describes the various positions on the Ryan plan publicly expressed by Republican hopefuls in the month since it was announced, ranging from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s general approval of the ideals without approval of the Paul plan itself, to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s more clear support, to various others lingering on the fringes. 

Now that he is officially a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich is beginning to more firmly define his positions on various on healthcare reform issues. Although, not surprisingly, he has been generally critical of Obama healthcare initiatives, on May 15th Gingrich appeared on Meet the Press discussing his distaste for the Ryan bill as akin to Democrat efforts at imposing such a “radical change,” instead preferring “a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options”. And while Gingrich has been generally critical of the Obama healthcare initiatives, he has endorsed the individual mandate to buy insurance that is one of the most well-known and controversial aspects of The Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, Gingrich’s comments have drawn criticism from many on the left, including a likely competitor for the GOP nomination, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum who has defended the Ryan plan as not radical but a necessary and appropriate curb on the healthcare program effects on the federal budget deficit.  

We fully expect various presidential hopefuls to continue to define their healthcare positions in the coming months and will continue to discuss these developments.