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The Medicare Scare

Medicare is bankrupt. That’s the line we always hear, right? Well, apparently Medicare has been bankrupt many times over the successful program’s long life, at least if news stories are to be believed. That’s right. The Medicare bankruptcy scare has been ongoing since 1969. That’s the year the zombie lie began.

I can’t claim original authorship of this, but several political blogs around the interwebs have picked up a humorous little tidbit in which someone found stories as far back as 1969 about Medicare being “bankrupt”. According to these news reports, Medicare also went bankrupt in 1976, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2008. Of course, none of those predictions materialized, but they were used at the time to try and justify benefit “adjustments”, which is just a “newspeak” code word for benefit reductions (do they ever adjust benefits for anything in the other direction?).Now we are being warned once again about Medicare’s pending demise, only this time the solution being offered is much more draconian.

Last month, the United States House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republican Party, voted to end Medicare as a government insurance program. Instead, they want to offer vouchers to those 65 and older so they can go buy their own insurance from a private company. Yes, the same private health insurance companies who will cancel your policy if they find out you had acne as a teenager. They want seniors to start paying for 2/3 of their healthcare costs. Where retired people will get this extra 12,000 dollars a year we don’t know because they also dynamite Medicaid, but that’s the Paul Ryan plan in a nutshell.

To become law, this plan will have to pass the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, and be signed by President Obama. That’ll happen just after there is a heavy frost in Hades. However, House Republicans are pushing for major Medicare reforms and benefit reductions in ongoing negotiations over the debt limit. I call it the “You shoot the hostage or I’ll shoot the hostage” strategy. Thus far, few Democrats have said that plan is a “non-starter”, but today several more jumped on board that train. Hopefully, the Democratic Party will stand strong on this one, which should be a no-brainer.

The private health insurance market isn’t working for hundreds of millions of Americans. Costs and health insurance company profits continue to rise and benefits continue to fall. 40 million or so citizens can’t buy health insurance at all. But, this is the “market system” that some want to control all health insurance. The Ryan Plan simply hands these companies money and says “here, insure these folks”. The plan provides no controls for coverage or costs. It even brings back pre-existing conditions. What 65 year old do you know who hasn’t had a single health problem in their entire life? I’m 34 and can’t buy insurance. I can’t imagine being nearly twice my age and shopping for policies.

What I can’t understand is why Ryan and others are cutting the program that arguably works the best at controlling the real problem in healthcare, rising costs. Medicare controls cost far better than the private market. Medicare’s 3% overhead costs are far lower than the private market’s, which are anywhere from 25-30% depending on the company. Privatizing Medicare through the Medicare Advantage Plan hasn’t worked. Medicare Advantage actually costs 17% more than Medicare, which is why President Obama cut the program in the Affordable Care Act, which is where some politicians got that ‘500 Billion Dollar Medicare Cut’ talking point. Yes he cut 500 billion dollars from Privatized Medicare, because it doesn’t work!

 Someone needs to sit down and come up with a serious plan for our national health insurance problem. We need a solution that isn’t ideologically driven like the Ryan Plan or too compromised to be really effective like the Affordable Care Act. Above all, the solution needs to control costs, something neither the Ryan Plan or the Affordable Care Act does.

 What we don’t need to do is end Medicare.

 Bad idea Republicans. Really. Bad. Idea.