NPR’s Julie Rovner has a bone to pick with President Obama’s description of a proposal requiring higher income Americans to pay more for their Medicare benefits as means testing. Obama endorsed the somewhat controversial idea during his Friday press conference, but as Rovner explains, “a means test is a test to determine whether you get a particular benefit, not how much you pay for it” — Obama is “talking about something else entirely”:
Medicaid is a means-tested program. So are Food Stamps. If Medicare actually was means-tested, then wealthier people wouldn’t get the benefit at all. The context of the President’s comments make it fairly clear that he’s talking about something else entirely. It’s called “income relating.” That’s when people with higher incomes pay more but get the same benefits as people who earn less.
Medicare currently has income-related premiums for Part B of the program and, under last year’s Affordable Care Act, will begin income-relating premiums for Medicare’s prescription drug program this year.
Call it what you want, but Food Stamps and Medicaid have at least one thing in common — they’re constantly on the chopping block. That is, because these programs predominately benefit lower-income Americans who don’t have much political clout in Washington and tend to vote in smaller numbers than their higher-income counterparts, they are more vulnerable to cuts than broad based entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. “Income relating” Medicare would undercut political support for the program and help build momentum for the kind of Paul Ryan reforms that would privatize and destroy it as a government program.