REPUBLICANS in the U.S. House of Representatives voted two weeks ago to end Medicare as we know it.

And now, poor things, they are having trouble explaining themselves to their constituents.

Republican members of Congress were to meet today to discuss how to explain their vote for a budget proposal authored by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., that includes a plan to radically restructure Medicare and Medicaid while - you guessed it - lowering taxes on the rich even further.

Apparently, they are surprised that voting to dismantle a program liked by 80 percent of the American public - and 70 percent of tea partiers - is having negative repercussions.

Delaware County's own U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan has been facing some of this heat, while at the same time pretending the bill doesn't really say what it says. When a constituent at a gathering in Woodlyn, near Chester, asked Meehan why he had supported a bill to "abolish Medicare," he claimed she was "factually wrong."

You be the judge: While the Republican plan might continue to call a plan "Medicare," it wouldn't be the quintessential "single payer" health-care program that seniors love - and most Americans would love to have access to.

Medicare Today: When you turn 65, you get a Medicare card and pay modest premiums and co-pays. In exchange, you can go to a private doctor and get the health care you need and the doctor is reimbursed by the government.

Medicare 2022 under the Ryan proposal: private health insurers would get a capped amount of subsidy - about $8,000 - to cover each senior. Even if costs rose, the subsidy would stay the same, so that individual seniors would end up paying more and more of the bill. At first, Ryan wasn't shy about calling his proposal a "voucher" plan, but now he and his colleagues have changed the description to "premium support," although it's essentially the same deal.

Although the proposal passed the House, it has no realistic chance to become law, since Democrats control the Senate. But we hope Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow a vote on the plan, so we know just where everyone stands on it.

Here are a few more facts from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) about the proposal:

Since health care provided by private health insurers costs much more than Medicare coverage, seniors covered under the program in 2022 would end up paying an average of $6,000 more a year for health-care coverage than they would under Medicare. The subsidy would not keep up with rising health-care costs, and seniors eventually would be forced to pay the majority of their incomes for health care.

But while seniors would be struggling, private health insurers would reap a bonanza in government-funded subsidies - a cool $30 trillion, according to the CBO.

Of course, this program would do absolutely nothing to slow the skyrocketing costs of health care in general, which is the real crisis we face. Americans currently pay double and triple the amount that other countries pay for health care - much of it going to administrative costs and profits - with poorer results.

The costs of Medicare and Medicaid are a serious drain on the federal budget, but the answer isn't to dump more of the costs onto seniors. Instead, it's to rein in health-care costs across the board, like nearly every other industrialized nation in the world has done. The way to do that is not to dismantle Medicare, but to expand it to include everyone in a single-payer system.

In that respect, threatening Medicare as we know it has reminded us that we already know how well a single-payer plan works. *