Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meehan defends his Medicare vote, sort of

It was with the deepest interest that I read U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan’s letter to the Delaware County Daily Times today defending his vote for Paul Ryan’s budget plan, including its proposed changes to Medicare.  I was really hoping I would get some answers from that letter, but alas, no.
The letter points out that various fact-checking websites have found that various Democratic characterizations of Ryan’s Medicare proposal to be lies, false, misrepresentations, distorted and misleading.
He then ends the letter with, “Now you and your readers will have all the facts next time you hear these false charges about a GOP proposal to save Medicare, especially when they come from political partisans with no plan of their own.”
Unfortunately this is not the case.  Spending an entire letter just calling the other side liars does not explain just exactly what the facts are, what your stance is or what the Ryan Medicare plan would do.
Medicare, as we now know it (I qualified for Medicare this year), pays for 80 percent of our medical expenses.  We pay into Medicare through payroll taxes all our working lives, then we continue to pay into it after retirement, and we also either pa yout-of-pocket for the additional 20 percent that Medicare doesn't cover or we  buy Medigap insurance to pay for that 20 percent. 
In my case, that means I pay $115 a month into Medicare and $132 a month into Medigap.  I also pay an addition $32 a month for a prescription plan.
(Editor's note:  I did not put in the hyperlinks here and cannot see how to get them out.  I am NOT shilling for AARP or any other supplemental insurance plan.  My only links are to the CBO and Ezra Klein in case that isn't clear.)
Ryan’s plan would have Medicare, beginning in 2022, pay insurance companies a fixed annual payment of about $8,000 and then those seniors entering the system would shop for supplemental insurance from private companies to make up the difference, much as we do now with Medigap.  I assume we would also continue to buy Medigap and prescription plan insurance too.  No one has said.
Ryan’s plan also provides for higher “insurance support” (let’s not call them vouchers since everyone is sooo sensitive on that characterization) for people with greater healthcare needs, but that’s all kind of vague.
I submit that Ryan and the GOP really are proposing to “change Medicare as we know it” because no matter how you cut it, it will be different and it will cost seniors a heck of a lot more.   
In 2030, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, traditional Medicare insurance would only cost 60 percent as much as the private options Ryan is offering.  But under Ryan’s plan, seniors would pay two-thirds of the cost, while under traditional Medicare, they’d pay only 25 percent.   
So the plan is not so much to cut Medicare spending as to transfer a great deal more of it to seniors, many of whom are currently unemployed and underemployed and therefore not able to pay into Social Security and make the Medicare payroll payments they would otherwise be amassing. 
Read the CBO’s 29-page analysis of the Ryan budget plan here.  Pay particular attention to Pages 4, 5 and 8. The nonpartisan CBO estimates that in 2022 government spending for all people over 65  would be about $15,000 under traditional Medicare, but that Ryan’s proposal would cost the government only about $8,000 per senior. 
Granted that would be a huge savings for the government and a huge windfall for private insurers.
But who’s going to pay the difference?  Our future seniors (otherwise known as our children) will pay, probably both in high insurance premiums and greatly reduced services. 
There are many other ways of reducing Medicare spending without cutting benefits or forcing recipents to pay so much more, and the Democrats do have a plan for at least beginning that process.  They enacted it into law two years ago.  It’s called the Affordable Care Act.
Just a few of those ways include eliminating the estimated $60 billion a year in healthcare fraud that goes both to scam artists and to legitimate healthcare providers, prohibiting Medicare from paying for useless tests and medications, particularly at end of life, and encouraging recipients to adopt a “medical home,” such as Riddle or Crozer-Keystone, where all one’s medical treatment can be coordinated. (I am doing this on my own, gradually transferring to one system.)

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who knows more about tax policy than most of us, summarizes the entire Ryan Plan thus:  
“Ryan’s savings all come from cuts, and at least two-thirds of them come from programs serving the poor. The wealthy, meanwhile, would see their taxes lowered, and the Defense Department would escape unscathed.  It is not courageous to attack the weak while supporting your party’s most inane and damaging fiscal orthodoxies.  But the problem isn’t just that Ryan’s budget is morally questionable.  It also wouldn’t work.”

We have already heard Meehan insist that he did NOT vote to “change Medicare as know it,” or to destroy Medicare, that he only voted for the Ryan Plan as a “blueprint” for what the Republicans would like to do to "save" Medicare.  If the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House right now, that plan would be law, so “blueprint,” “law,” you decide.
I look forward to asking Congressman Meehan just what it is he does support in the way of changes to Medicare (and Medicaid, which pays for 40 percent of the nursing home care for the elderly) at one of his town meetings next Wednesday.  Concord 2 p.m., Springfield 7 p.m.
I trust he can get past the “Democrats are liars” talking point and really tell us where he stands.

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