The GOP's Medicare Surrender

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The GOP's Medicare Surrender

That the universe is curved; if you could see far enough, you'd see the back of your head. Except for those who want to throw out any set of laws, including the laws of physics and economics.

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The GOP's Medicare Surrender

Wall Street Journal
June 11, 2003 REVIEW & OUTLOOK
The GOP's Medicare SurrenderTed Kennedy has spent his career attempting to nationalize the American health care system. So maybe Republicans should take a hint when the Democrat from Massachusetts says he is delighted with the emerging GOP plans to "reform" Medicare.As for taxpayers, they should be petrified. What began as a worthy attempt by President Bush to reform the broken retiree health system is fast becoming in Congress little more than a giant new entitlement. Republicans are compromising with themselves so fast that we're beginning to wonder what the point of having a GOP majority really is.This is especially disturbing because the stars have been aligned for a historic reform effort. Mr. Bush wants to do something about a program that is fast going broke, and the carrot of a prescription drug benefit for seniors exists as an incentive for skittish Members of Congress to support him. But now that it's time to write the actual bill, Republicans are refusing to stand up for the free-market reforms they claim to believe in. Mr. Kennedy is no fool when he says he'll pocket the emerging GOP Senate bill "and we'll expand it over a period of time."The GOP plans do retain the false edifice of reform. In theory, they would create a less-restrictive privately run alternative to Medicare that would operate like the preferred-provider insurance that most workers have and like. There'd be some incentives for seniors to switch into these private plans, since they would address such deficiencies in traditional Medicare as the lack of catastrophic and preventive coverage. Finally, these plans would be overseen by an entirely new office, outside of traditional Medicare's price-controlling bureaucracy.But behind this pretty facade are the kinds of regulatory traps that have Mr. Kennedy smiling. One of the bad ideas in the Senate draft is so-called competitive bidding, which would actually limit choice. The government would pick only three low bidders to offer the private Medicare option in each area. This is bound to result in unpopular plans heavy on rationing and light on innovation.Worse, these private providers would be reimbursed based on a traditional Medicare price benchmark -- in other words, based on a price-control system that is already driving many doctors out of Medicare. These ideas can have no rationale other than helping the Congressional Budget Office produce lower cost estimates that no one believes anyway -- unless of course you want to sabotage the private Medicare options from the start.The better reform alternative is to offer the drug benefit only as part of an integrated insurance plan just like most working Americans have. And rather than picking winners, the government could let seniors choose for themselves. Under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- that Senators use themselves and is a Medicare reform model -- the government welcomes all competent providers and helps pay premiums based on an average of costs. The level of premium support could be adjusted to control Medicare costs over time.We could live with a bill that offers some drug help to seniors in traditional Medicare, so long as it actually creates a vibrant private-sector alternative. But the real risk is that we're headed for a costly new entitlement, with an over-regulated "private-sector" option that is doomed to fail.Employers who still pay for retiree drug coverage (about 76% of all seniors have some coverage now) will in turn be only too happy to pass that burden onto taxpayers. An analyst's report Monday estimated that General Motors alone would dump an unfunded liability of $1.4 billion onto the grandkids.The GOP calculus here seems to be to take health care off the table for 2004, and take credit for delivering seniors a popular free lunch. That'll help elect a few more Republican Senators, and a re-elected Mr. Bush can then reform Social Security. But even if that long-shot strategy played out, the long-term cost is too high.This debate isn't just about Medicare but about the future of American health care. The left has dreamed for years of moving the U.S. to the European model of government-run health care. A universal drug benefit as part of an unreformed Medicare system is a giant leap toward that end. Once they've spent the carrot of prescription drugs on a fleeting re-election cycle, Republicans will be playing defense on health care for the next 30, make that 60, years. Price controls on drugs are a certainty down the road.This surrender also isn't politically necessary. Republicans hardly suffered in 2002 on the prescription drug issue, and they can win next year on a platform of security and (assuming the economic spurt heralded by the stock market) prosperity. In the meantime, they can coalesce around help for low-income seniors or a drug-discount card. Americans didn't elect Republicans to add one more pillar to the welfare state.URL for this article:
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Melvin Udall
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Re: The GOP's Medicare Surrender

We need to create a new political party. Let's call it "Republicans."

Anonymous
Re: The GOP's Medicare Surrender

quote:Originally posted by Melvin Udall:
[b]We need to create a new political party. Let's call it "Republicans."[/b]

I find it interesting that Conservatives think the Republicans have sold them out by being too liberal, and the Progressives think the Democrats have sold out by being too conservative. What do all you political philosophers think this means?

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