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Friday, February 12, 2010

Republican Medicare Snake Oil
Posted by Jill | 5:50 AM
Paul Krugman on the Republican talk out of both sides of their mouths on Medicare:
“Don’t cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong.” So declared Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, in a recent op-ed article written with John Goodman, the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

And irony died.

Now, Mr. Gingrich was just repeating the current party line. Furious denunciations of any effort to seek cost savings in Medicare — death panels! — have been central to Republican efforts to demonize health reform. What’s amazing, however, is that they’re getting away with it.

Why is this amazing? It’s not just the fact that Republicans are now posing as staunch defenders of a program they have hated ever since the days when Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare would destroy America’s freedom. Nor is it even the fact that, as House speaker, Mr. Gingrich personally tried to ram through deep cuts in Medicare — and, in 1995, went so far as to shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those cuts.

After all, you could explain this about-face by supposing that Republicans have had a change of heart, that they have finally realized just how much good Medicare does. And if you believe that, I’ve got some mortgage-backed securities you might want to buy.

No, what’s truly mind-boggling is this: Even as Republicans denounce modest proposals to rein in Medicare’s rising costs, they are, themselves, seeking to dismantle the whole program. And the process of dismantling would begin with spending cuts of about $650 billion over the next decade. Math is hard, but I do believe that’s more than the roughly $400 billion (not $500 billion) in Medicare savings projected for the Democratic health bills.


In the Ryan proposal, nobody currently under the age of 55 would be covered by Medicare as it now exists. Instead, people would receive vouchers and be told to buy their own insurance. And even this new, privatized version of Medicare would erode over time because the value of these vouchers would almost surely lag ever further behind the actual cost of health insurance. By the time Americans now in their 20s or 30s reached the age of eligibility, there wouldn’t be much of a Medicare program left.

But what about those who already are covered by Medicare, or will enter the program over the next decade? You’re safe, says the roadmap; you’ll still be eligible for traditional Medicare. Except, that is, for the fact that the plan “strengthens the current program with changes such as income-relating drug benefit premiums to ensure long-term sustainability.”

People planning to vote this November ought to listen to Republicans are saying before casting their ballots, because rest assured -- Republican power means an end of -- not just a change to, but an end of Social Security and Medicare. Even as the financial markets show a new period of volatility and retirement savings among both the young and the old have not yet recovered from the Bush financial meltdown, Republicans are still extolling the Magic of the Markets to bring riches to the working class. Perhaps what they're trying to do is shore up the market returns of their constituency with Social Security funds designed for those they regard as simply the unwashed masses. And as for Medicare, they're talking out of both sides of their mouths -- Don't cut Medicare, cut Medicare. It remains to be seen if this line of reasoning is going to fly.

The Republicans have been trying to dismantle Social Security since it was first enacted in the 1930's, and Medicare since its founding in 1965. That. Does. Not. Change.


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