Health

Jeb Bush Quietly Suggests ‘Phasing Out’ Medicare

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush suggested that the United States should figure out a way to “phase out” Medicare, the federal program that provides insurance to more than 50 million elderly and disabled people, at a political event on Wednesday night.

MSNBC reports that Bush was speaking at an event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing group backed by the billionaire Koch Brothers that has doggedly advocated against fully implementing the Affordable Care Act.

In his comments, Bush referenced Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) politically contentious plan to radically restructure the Medicare program — which independent analysts predicted would more than double health costs for the average 65-year-old — and criticized progressive lawmakers for failing to engage with Ryan’s proposals. Despite recent evidence that the program’s finances are secure, the former Florida governor suggested that Medicare isn’t solvent.

“I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something — because they’re not going to have anything,” Bush said.

As MSNBC’s Steve Benen points out, the position that the United States should end Medicare altogether is radical even among Republicans, who typically avoid taking the stance that the massive federal health program should be eliminated.

GOP lawmakers have pushed back on Democrats’ characterization that Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare amounts to “ending the program as we know it,” maintaining that they simply want to reform it. Even so, efforts to implement those reforms have been unsuccessful in Congress, largely because the health program is very popular among seniors and talking about changing it can be a political liability. This spring, Republicans quietly dropped the proposed policy in budget negotiations, and analysts predicted that the party might finally be giving up the fight against Medicare.

Bush’s comments come just one week before Medicare and Medicaid, which Americans overwhelmingly rate among the most important government-run programs, will mark their 50th birthday. Across the country, there are events planned to mark the occasion and, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services describes it, recognize “the ways in which these programs have transformed the nation’s health care system over the past five decades.”

The Republican presidential hopeful is no fan of the country’s existing health policies, however. Jeb Bush has previously said that he favors repealing Obamacare altogether because the advent of new technology like the Apple Watch will make the health law unnecessary.