Bush Swings Medicare Ax

Bill Scher

President Bush’s budget comes out next week, and today’s NY Times headline says he wants “Big Medicare and Medicaid Saving”. That means big cuts.

Cuts where?

Less money for middle-class kids in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. (Here, the NYT uses White House-speak: “sharpen its focus on low-income families.”)

Less money for middle-class seniors. (“The president’s budget would require more people to pay … higher premiums.”)

Less money for doctors and hospitals, while private HMOs make out just fine.

The NYT reports that “many Democrats in Congress want to [curb payments to private HMOs], because, they maintain, Medicare overpays the plans, which they see as a step toward privatizing the program.” Though economist Dean Baker blogs: “that is not just a claim of the Democrats. The Medicare Payments Advisory Commission … concluded that Medicare pays an average of 11 percent more per beneficiary for people enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program [with the HMOs] than for people in the traditional fee for service Medicare program.”

So to sum up: more financial burden on the middle-class, but not more health benefit, while their taxes continue to be wasted on propping up inefficient HMOs.

The harsh cuts look like a political move to warp the parameters of debate, and make protecting Medicare appear to be fiscally irresponsible.

Congress shouldn’t take the bait, and buy into the notion that balancing the budget requires harming Medicare and worsening our health care system.

Instead, they should tackle broader health care reform, providing universal health care in order to cut costs while improving quality over the long-term — as Health Care for America would do.

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