Prominent conservatives are wrong when they blame healthcare reform for Medicare’s budget woes, according to the head of a progressive Washington policy shop. Rather, Medicare would be better off with more government financing — not less, he adds.
The trustees of Social Security and Medicare on Monday released their latest report. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the powerful chairman of the House Budget Committee, was quick to allege that the 2010 healthcare reform law “raids over $500 billion from Medicare to finance a new health care entitlement, and hands Medicare’s fate over to an unaccountable board of 15 unelected bureaucrats.”
Not true, says Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future.
“Those who have always wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits are trumpeting the new Trustees report to argue that austerity and benefit cuts are the only way to avoid budget disaster. But they are wrong,” Hickey says.
Rather, Hickey and colleague Richard Eskow argue that if growing Medicare expenditures are the problem, the solution should not be slashing Medicare benefits or turning the program into a voucher. According to Eskow, “Every other industrialized nation has some form of public health financing system — and costs that are so far below ours that it would fix our budget fears entirely if we could match them.”
The problem isn’t that Medicare is a government program: The problem is the power of insurance companies and drug companies, Hickey and Eskow contend. For-profit hospital and other medical providers have increased their hold over the U.S. healthcare system, they say. The system for reimbursing doctors encourages over-treatment, they say.
Lawmakers refuse to allow the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. And for-profit health insurance companies fail to manage costs, which makes it increasingly difficult to rein in that portion of the health economy that Medicare supports, they say.
Hickey says that Democrats have a big decision to make.
“Republicans have clearly committed to the benefit cuts and plan to turn the program into a voucher, which is central to Paul Ryan’s budget, which in turn is central to the Republican message this year,” he says. “Democrats should instead stand with the strong American majorities, who want the political system to protect Social Security and Medicare. They can demonstrate that their party has a plan to control health care costs – the true drivers of America’s Medicare cost problem.”
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.