Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Medicare and the Democrats

Medicare as we know it cannot continue. The trustees in charge of the trust fund say so. The Congressional Budget Office says so. The Republicans say so.

But, thanks to a special election held in New York last week, the Democrats will spend the next year and a half insisting that any attempts to change Medicare amount to throwing seniors off a cliff. They even ran an ad during the New York election that literally had a Republican pushing people over a cliff.

The Democrats are overestimating the meaning of the election. It was a three-way race between a Democrat, a Republican, and a Tea Party candidate who had previously been both a Republican and a Democrat. The district had been comfortably Republican and carried by McCain but the Democrat won after running a campaign focusing exclusively on the Republican plan for Medicare.

Because a Democrat won a Republican district, the party decided that they will run the same campaign nationally. The problem with this reasoning is that it was a three-way race and the winner's percentage of the vote was comparable to Obama's.

This is a problem because the Democrats have sacrificed real discussions about the nation's future for short-term tactical advantage.

The Republican plan as advanced by Paul Ryan would move Medicare from being a pure government program to one that includes insurance pools with government assistance. If the idea of insurance pools sounds familiar, it is because they are included in Obamacare.

Medicare will run out of money in the 2020s, partly because of rising medical costs. The Ryan plan hopes to contain costs by passing some of them on to seniors. The hope is that they will shop around. There are problems with these assumptions and the entire issue needs a real debate. Instead we have people like the new DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz saying

They would take the people who are younger than 55 years old today and tell them, 'You know what? You're on your own. Go and find private health insurance in … the health care insurance market. We're going to throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions. We're going to give you X amount of dollars, and you figure it out.' And these are people who have paid for their whole life into the system, are counting on that safety net.

This statement has been ruled false by sites such as PolitiFact. The Democrats should be advancing their own proposal with will likely involve tax hikes and cuts in services. Instead they pretend that Medicare is sustainable and that the Republicans are trying to destroy it in order to satisfy the radical Tea Party.

It is easy to understand why the Democrats are taking this tactic. It allows them to score cheap points against the Republicans. It also allows them to hold off on the wrenching admission that their crown jewels (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) have to be reformed.

But it puts the entire nation's future at risk.

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