AUFC - Concord Monitor: Voters right to grill Bass on Medicare

Key Point: Bass had the Republican script for such encounters. Traditional Medicare would be replaced not with vouchers but with a "premium support system." Please, Charlie, you're insulting people. Call it what it is: a voucher whose value increases more slowly than the cost of health care. The government saves money, but Medicare recipients pay a bigger share of the cost of health care every year. The nation's debt and deficit can't be reduced without doing more to control health care costs, including Medicare, but a voucher system is a heartless way to go about it.

 

Editorial: Voters right to grill Bass on Medicare

By Monitor staff

Created 04/27/2011 - 00:00

Monitor editorial

http://www.concordmonitor.com/print/253637

U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass deserves credit. Not for supporting Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to replace the enormously popular Medicare program with government vouchers - that's a terrible idea - but for showing up at senior center and a Hillsboro meeting with constituents to defend that plan.

Bass had the Republican script for such encounters. Traditional Medicare would be replaced not with vouchers but with a "premium support system." Please, Charlie, you're insulting people. Call it what it is: a voucher whose value increases more slowly than the cost of health care. The government saves money, but Medicare recipients pay a bigger share of the cost of health care every year. The nation's debt and deficit can't be reduced without doing more to control health care costs, including Medicare, but a voucher system is a heartless way to go about it.

Bass also told seniors not to worry - no one over age 55 would be affected by the changes. True, people nearing retirement age have little time to prepare for higher health care bills - an additional $6,400 per recipient by 2022 according to the Congressional Budget Office. But holding people over age 55 completely harmless shifts more of the cost of health care to younger Americans who won't themselves enjoy the benefits of a program that senior citizens love. A fairer plan would means test Medicare.

Health care costs go up with age while assets, for most, shrink. But under the plan Bass is trying to sell, the older one gets the more health care will cost. The elderly will get their care, in emergency rooms, but not until they're deathly ill, and the bill will be passed on to employers and the dwindling population of the insured.

Last year, the Employee Benefit Research Institute dourly pointed out that 47 percent of all younger baby boomers, those most likely not to have a defined benefit pension plan, won't have enough money to retire. And that was when Medicare recipients paid on average 30 percent of the costs of their health care. The Ryan plan would raise that to 68 percent by 2030, according to economist Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution.

Bass and his fellow Republicans are trying to defend indefensible positions. They want to cut spending to balance the budget but give tax cuts to the wealthy that will make deficits worse.

They want to give the elderly vouchers to buy health insurance and bring health care costs down, but they oppose health care reform's mandate to buy insurance. But insurers won't support a system that forbids exclusions for pre-existing conditions yet allows people to wait until they're ill to buy insurance.

Insurers aren't going to compete to offer affordable coverage to a pool of old people. The state and federal health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act offer the elderly and people with low incomes the only hope of buying insurance at a price they can afford. But Republicans are fighting the creation of the exchanges.

The health care reform act that Bass wants to repeal holds the best hope of bringing down health care costs.

The plan would eliminate the Medicare Advantage program, which provides essentially the same quality of care as Medicare itself but at a cost 9 percent higher. The law also begins the shift away from traditional fee-for-service medicine toward a "medical home" model that pays providers a fixed amount to keep people healthy and treat them when they're not. Costs will never come down until that happens.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the reforms will reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion over the next two decades, while ensuring 95 percent of all Americans have coverage. Ryan's plan would save by making health care unaffordable for more and more people. It's a plan that Bass, in meetings with constituents, will find harder and harder to sell.

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Lauren Weiner

Deputy Communications Director

Americans United for Change