Potential cuts to Medicare being considered by the new congressional “supercommittee” and the White House “will cost the nation more in food stamps, welfare, seniors’ poverty, serious health issues, and emergency hospitalization,” according to a new analysis published Sunday.
The recent budget deal, enacted to raise the federal debt limit and avoid a first-ever government default, created the so-called supercommittee and tasked it to identify $1.5 trillion over 10 years in deficit reduction in addition to the initial $1 trillion already approved as part of the budget package.
Known officially as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the bipartisan panel could propose tax revenue increases or further cuts to federal programs, including Medicare.
In an opinion piece in the Tallahassee Democrat, Democrats Bob Weiner and John Horton assert, “Medicare is not a for-profit venture. It is what our nation does to provide health care to seniors so that healthcare costs do no force them into poverty, where millions were before the program began.”
Weiner is a former White House aide from the Clinton administration. He also was chief of staff of the House Aging Committee under the late Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.). Horton is senior political analyst at Robert Weiner Associates.
Citing numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Census Bureau, Weiner and Horton point out, “Medicare reduced seniors’ poverty rate by over 20%– it was 30%, and today it is 7.5%. As President Lyndon Johnson said when creating Medicare in 1965, ‘No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that seniors have so carefully put away.'”
Weiner and Horton state that the financial outlook for Medicare is actually improving: “Its solvency is now nine years longer under the new health care law according to CBO. The law also saves the Treasury over a Trillion dollars. The 2011 Medicare Trustees Report states, ‘The financial outlook for the Medicare program is substantially improved as a result of the changes in the Affordable Care Act.'”
Weiner and Horton question “why Congress is threatening repeal, and 26 attorney generals, including Florida’s, Pam Bondi, are challenging the law. Could politics, not the deficit or health care, be their real priorities?”
While Weiner and Horton argue against all cuts as harmful, they claim that extreme proposals like the plan put forward by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the House Republicans’ “Cut, Cap, and Balance” legislation would have “disastrous results for seniors and Medicare.”
These proposals would “cut Medicare benefits in half, cost average families an extra $6,000 according to CBO, and voucherize Medicare to force seniors beginning at decade’s end to use private insurers to decide when and what illnesses are covered.”
These plans are best summed up by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), say Weiner and Horton, who quote her as saying, “No longer would Medicare be a guarantee of health insurance coverage. Instead Medicare would become little more than a discount card. This plan would literally be a death trap for seniors.”
Wasserman-Schultz also serves as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Weiner and Horton point out that “the deficit is not caused by seniors’ programs solvent for decades like Medicare and Social Security. The largest causes of the deficit, according to CBO, are the unpaid wars and Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. According to OMB, the tax cuts added 3 trillion dollars to the deficit over the past decade. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Brown University study, cost 4 trillion. In addition, revenue lost due to the recession totals about 3.6 trillion.”
Weiner and Horton conclude by emphasizing, “American values are more than the profit-loss ratio of its programs. Do we insist that fire departments, police, schools, food safety, and libraries make money? Medicare’s purpose isn’t profit, it’s seniors’ health care. The Supercommittee will report by November 23 and Congress will vote by December 23 on the newest budget ‘deal.’ President Obama has said, keep contacting Congress. Our seniors are worth more than the bottom line.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.