Democratic Leader Opposes Cutting Medicare Benefits To Strike A Fiscal Cliff Deal

As lawmakers prepare to strike a deal to prevent the so-called “fiscal cliff,” some Democrats have suggested compromising with Republicans in Congress by offering up deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. At a press conference on Thursday, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirmed that she is not among the Democratic lawmakers who support making a deal at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

Asked whether she would be willing to accept “structural changes” to Medicare and Medicaid in order to get Republicans to agree to new revenue, Pelosi harshly critiqued that euphemism for obscuring the fact that slashing benefits would harm seniors and struggling Americans. She responded that she would not support those types of adjustments to social programs as part of a debt deal:

PELOSI: Those issues — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — they should be in their own realm. Whatever adjustments would be made in Social Security should be there to strengthen Social Security, not to subsidize a tax cut for the wealthiest people in America and say that’s how we balance the budget. The same thing with Medicaid and Medicare… Sen. Reid and others have spoken out, we’re not going to touch any of the entitlements, so I think that gives you some indication of the likelihood of something like that happening… Unless somebody wants to define — you are asking me if I would support what they’re saying. I don’t know what they’re saying by “structural.” Is that a euphemism for “I’m going to cut your benefit if you’re a middle-aged senior”? Is that what structural change means? No, I don’t support that.

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One “structural change” currently being floated is potentially raising the Medicare eligibility age above 65, a policy that is included in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget. But that type of reform would actually only serve to shift the cost burden onto employers, states, and the older Americans who fall between 65 years old and the new eligibility age. Raising the eligibility age to 67 would have a negligible effect on Medicare’s long-term spending growth — since the program’s younger beneficiaries tend to be healthier and have fewer medical costs — while increasing the out-of-pocket insurance costs for the seniors who would have been covered by Medicare before the eligibility threshold changed.

And as Pelosi points out, that type of adjustment would simply be a concession to the Republicans who insist on offering tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans — and wouldn’t actually help strengthen the future of the nation’s health care programs.