Feature

Medicare cuts: Will ‘reform’ hurt the elderly?

In the Senate health-care bill, the reductions in Medicare constitute about 5 percent of the program's budget over the next 10 years.

Scaring seniors into believing they’re about to lose their benefits is one of the oldest, if most shameless, games in politics, said USA Today in an editorial. But in their desperation to stop President Obama’s health-care reform initiative, the Republicans have “set a new, lower bar for demagoguery.” Arizona Sen. John McCain led the fear-mongering last week when he tried, unsuccessfully, to remove $487 billion in Medicare cuts from the Senate health-care bill. His insistence that the cuts would “eventually lead to rationing of health care” was echoed by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who warned the elderly, “You’re going to die sooner.” That’s as untrue as it is irresponsible, said Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic Online. The reductions constitute only about 5 percent of Medicare’s budget over the next 10 years, with no guaranteed benefits being lost. As for their newfound concern for Medicare, Republicans have apparently forgotten that in the 1990s, they proposed 12 percent cuts in the program to free up money for tax cuts for the rich. Hypocrisy, anyone?

When it comes to hypocrisy, said The Washington Times, Democrats shouldn’t point fingers. The White House would have you believe that the huge cuts now being considered would somehow “strengthen Medicare” by magically reducing waste and fraud, without specifying what waste and fraud would be eliminated. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is jointly run by Congress and the administration, recently demolished that argument. If the cuts pass, the agency said in tangled bureaucratic language that we’ll put into plain English here, “people will want more medical care than will be available; not everyone will be able to get treatment; and there will have to be rationing.”

Consider the alternative—no cuts in Medicare, ever, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. The U.S. is rapidly racing toward a major debt crisis, caused mainly by the ever-escalating cost of the big three entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. With tens of millions of baby boomers now beginning to retire, the cost-control measures in the Senate health-care bill are an important first step in heading off “fiscal catastrophe.” Only by guaranteeing health care to everyone can the government create enough political support to tackle out-of-control costs. If health-care reform fails, “the demagogues will have won.” Then, neither party will dare to cut entitlements until the federal government is bankrupt.

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