While those on the left are better known for defending key federal programs from falling victim to a budget knife, a prominent group of progressive Democrats say they have found a way to cut Medicare in the name of deficit reduction — without harming benefits to those who rely on the federal healthcare program.
“Congress can shave $1 trillion from the deficit by closing the loophole in Medicare Part D, which prohibits the government from negotiating lower prescription drug prices,” Tim Carpenter, national director of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) says in a Thursday email.
Established by Congress in 2003, Medicare Part D subsidizes recipients for prescription drugs. Although other federal health programs, such as the Department Veterans Affairs, can negotiate lower drug prices, Medicare Part D is not allowed to do so.
The Medicare drug benefit was engineered by then-Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who soon afterward left Congress for a job heading up a powerful lobbying group for the drug industry.
With Congress now hunting for deep reductions in the federal budget deficit by way of the so-called “supercommittee,” Medicare has come in jeopardy of being cut. That bipartisan supercommittee is tasked with identifying ways to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. It is to complete its work by Thanksgiving.
The PDA proposal would allow for budget savings on the part of the government without restricting access to care. Since going into effect in 2006, more than 27 million Americans have come to rely on Medicare Part D.
“So far, we’ve identified 2.8 trillion dollars in deficit reduction without cutting benefits to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” Carpenter says. “Over the next weeks, we’ll identify more savings and revenue raisers that will preserve and could expand benefits.”
The effort is part of what PDA has dubbed “Operation Super-committee,” which calls for “a mix of raising revenue and cutting wasteful spending while protecting low and middle-income families as the proper course to tackle the national deficit.”
PDA is circulating an online petition in support of its move to allow Medicare Part D drug-price negotiation. Members of the organization plan to meet Monday with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) to deliver that petition.
“Our goal is 20,000 signatures—and we’re more than halfway there,” Carpenter says.
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.