Republicans Offer A False Choice On Medicare

Republicans appeared on the Sunday morning political talk shows with a unified message: lawmakers can either pass the GOP budget or they can opt to do what the Democrats are proposing, which is nothing at all, allowing the program to go bankrupt and the deficit to skyrocket. During an interview with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Meet The Press host David Gregory bought into this canard by asking, “Is there a danger for Democrats in not seriously engaging on Medicare as being seen as abdicating responsibility on really fighting the deficit writ large?”

Schumer’s response — which emphasized that Democrats already seriously engaged on Medicare by extending the solvency of the program in the Affordable Care Act and that Republicans would literally end traditional Medicare as an option to seniors — should serve as a guide to any Democrats who are asked to respond to that kind premise:

SCHUMER: The bottom line is very simple. We already proved our bona fides in last year’s bill, where we, where we extended Medicare’s life by 12 years by doing some of the things that I talked about there on delivery system reform. And we’re going to continue to do that. There’s a choice here — there are three choices. One is to do nothing. One is to preserve the benefits but change the delivery systems and not let some of the providers, like the drug companies, get away with so much. And one is to end Medicare as we know it. Democrats are in the second one, Republicans are on the third one. Until Mitch McConnell abandons the third one, we are not going to get a budget deficit agreement. It’s that simple. […]

The difference is between us and Republicans. They want to end Medicare as we know it. If you turn it over to a pure system where the — where the insurance companies govern, here’s what happens according to CBO, nonpartisan: the beneficiaries, instead of paying 25 percent, pay 68 percent. But at the same time, the costs don’t go down, they continue to rise because the insurance companies pass the costs to the beneficiaries. That is wrong. That is not politics, I would say to my dear friend Senator McConnell. That is what America’s all about. And we will, we will oppose them in the budget negotiations if they don’t abandon Ryan, and it will legitimately be one of the major issues of the election year in 2012.

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One could go even further and argue that, while health care costs are in fact out of control, the possibility of Medicare going bankrupt is — and historically has been — greatly exaggerated. In fact, if no changes are made, Medicare would still be able to meet 88 percent of its obligations in 2085. But the “time bomb” argument is now being used by opportunistic opponents of the program — the same party that at one point argued that it should whither on the vine — to end it and transfer future enrollees into the hands of private insurers that have historically done a worse job of controlling health care spending and charge more for similar benefits.


It’s also worth pointing out that as Republicans — particularly the contenders for the presidential nomination — grow weary of the public rejection of the Ryan plan and begin forming their own, more moderate proposals, they’ll be offering the very same kind of delivery system reforms that Schumer is describing as choice two. (Only they would want to repeal them first).