August 21, 2011
Photo by Richard A. Bloom
Robert Weiner
Photo by Khurram A. Abbas
John Horton

Our View: Cutting Medicare benefits will cost the nation

By Robert Weiner and John Horton

Congressional Democrats and Republicans say that Medicare benefits are "on the table" for the new "Supercommittee" that is looking to reduce $2.4 trillion from the deficit. Yet the latest polls show 78 percent oppose cutting spending on Medicare.

Medicare not only provides health care to Florida's 3 million seniors and the nation's 40 million, but also keeps them from food stamps, welfare, overall poverty, more serious health issues and emergency hospitalization. The nation will pay far more by reducing benefits.

Medicare is not a for-profit venture. It is what our nation does to provide health care to seniors so that health-care costs do no force them into poverty, where millions were before the program began.

According to the Census Bureau, Medicare reduced seniors' poverty rate by over 20 percent it was 30 percent, and today it is 7.5 percent.

As President Lyndon Johnson said when creating Medicare in 1965, "no longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that seniors have so carefully put away."

If seniors must endure smaller benefits, illness once again will crush savings and the poverty rate once again will rise. The more cuts to Medicare, the more people we will push into poverty and social programs. This would hardly help reduce the deficit.

Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Majority Whip, told us, "We won't allow Medicare cuts without revenue increases." Durbin emphasized that Democrats in Congress would never support the Paul Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare into a voucher program.

However, if the Ryan Plan, which as passed by the House Republican leadership, is the marker cutting Medicare benefits in half, costing average families an extra $6,000, and "voucherizing" Medicare to force seniors to use private insurers to decide when and what illnesses are covered then we understand how Congress has hit an all time low approval of 13 percent.

The public understands that brinkmanship and threats of dismantling our social safety net cannot be a strategy to impose budget "compromise."

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., bluntly stated what cuts would mean for the 17 percent of Floridians who are seniors the nation's highest number and who use Medicare: "No longer would Medicare be a guarantee of health insurance coverage. Instead Medicare would become little more than a discount card. This plan would literally be a death trap for seniors."

Medicare is in a serious condition, but not because of its solvency, which is now nine years longer under the new health care law according to the Congressional Budget Office. The law also saves the Treasury more than a trillion dollars.

The 2011 Medicare Trustees Report states, "The financial outlook for the Medicare program is substantially improved as a result of the changes in the Affordable Care Act." Yet Congress is threatening repeal, and 26 attorney generals, including Florida's Pam Bondi, are challenging the law. Could politics, not the deficit or health care, be their real priorities?

Despite the claims of some, Social Security and Medicare are not the cause of the deficit. The largest causes of the deficit, according to CBO, are the unpaid wars and Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

According to OMB, the tax cuts added $3 trillion to the deficit over the past decade. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Brown University study, cost $4 trillion. In addition, revenue lost due to the recession totals about $3.6 trillion.

American values are more than the profit-loss ratio of its programs. Do we insist that fire departments, police, schools, food safety and libraries make money? Medicare's purpose isn't profit, it's seniors' health care. The Supercommittee will report by Nov. 23 and Congress will vote by Dec. 23 on the newest budget "deal." President Obama has said, keep contacting Congress. Our seniors are worth more than the bottom line.

Robert Weiner is a former White House spokesman and was chief of staff of the U.S. House Aging Committee and Health Subcommittee under Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.). He periodically works with the Pepper Foundation/Center/Library in Tallahassee. John Horton is senior economic policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates. Contact them by email at weinerpublic@comcast.net.

Link to original: http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20110821/OPINION05/108210345/Cutting-Medicare-benefitswill-cost-nation