One of the major strategies that Republicans have used to try to undermine support for the recently passed federal health care law is to claim that it made huge cuts to Medicare for America’s senior citizens. This claim is misleading, because the cuts were primarily made to Medicare Advantage, a Medicare program administered by private insurers which is far less efficient than traditional Medicare. It is also somewhat hypocritical, given the fact that Republicans have declared themselves steadfastly opposed to government health care programs yet portrayed themselves as defenders of the world’s largest single payer health care system.
Current GOP Conference Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) is one of those conservatives who blasted the health care law for cutting Medicare. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month, Hensarling noted that the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission had few health care recommendations. He called this a “bow to the left and the White House, which cut Medicare by $500 billion to finance a corner of ObamaCare”:
Yet, incredibly, the Simpson-Bowles report has almost nothing to say about the runaway health-care entitlements. This is a bow to the left and the White House, which cut Medicare by $500 billion to finance a corner of ObamaCare and wants its signature achievement untouched. But this is like doing a Pentagon budget review and excluding Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans ought to reject the report on those grounds alone.
Yet the National Journal reports this morning that none other than Hensarling is pushing for his fellow Republicans to support the privatization of Medicare and the moving of the eligibility age for the program from 65 to 69, which would involve enormous cuts:
PUSH TO PRIVATIZE. House GOP members are considering a measure to convert the government-backed Medicare program into a voucher system. The measure would be part of the House budget, which will be shaped next month. Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas said the he expects Republicans to support the provision, which would require Medicare to give seniors an allotment of money to buy private coverage starting in 2021. The eligibility age would also be raised, from 65 to 69.
Hensarling’s proposal appears to be along the lines of House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) “Roadmap For America’s Future Act,” which would involve the most dramatic cuts to Medicare the program has ever seen. Under the Ryan plan, “Medicare would be cut 76 percent below its projected size under current policies, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In other words, by 2080, the vouchers that would replace Medicare would receive one-quarter of the resources that Medicare would otherwise use.”
Needless to say, it is incredibly cynical for Hensarling — and any of the other Republicans who support the Ryan plan — to complain about cuts to Medicare Advantage under Obama’s health law while simultaneously backing a proposal that would essentially end the program as we know it and leave millions of seniors on their own to contend with the health insurance industry.