GOP Takes on Health Care Issue

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, November 24, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Things like expanded health coverage use to be an issue for the Democrats. Are the Republicans taking over an expensive piece of the battleground?

Let's talk to Robert Moffit (search), director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation (search). He joins me from Washington. Mr. Moffit, the big question, who wins the politics of this prescription drug war?

ROBERT MOFFIT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, John, in the short run, the Republicans are going to have a major political victory here, there is no question about that.

GIBSON: And is there some long-run question that changes the scenario?

MOFFIT: Well, I don't think there's any question about it. If you look at the Medicare (search) debate going back over the past 10 years, virtually every responsible adult who dealt with the issue of Medicare said, “Look, if you are going to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, you must provide for real, strong, structural reform of the Medicare program.”

That was the view of the General Accounting Office (search), the Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare trustees. What has happened here is we have passed a $400 billion drug bill on top of an already financially troubled Medicare program, and the cost of this drug bill is going to explode in future years.

So, we're inheriting here a major financial problem. And it is not necessarily going to happen within the next couple of years, but by the time the Baby Boomers retire in eight years from now, we're talking about a real problem for the country.

GIBSON: Well, was there an imperative to do it anyway? Is it so important to have a prescription drug benefit that it was just going to have to happen, and it was a question of whether the Democrats did it or the Republicans did?

MOFFIT: You know, the truth is the professional literature has shown that there was never a universal drug access problem among senior citizens. Basically, the professional literature shows that anywhere between 75 and 78 percent of seniors already have prescription drug coverage today.

The generosity of that coverage varies. Some is not that good, but a lot of your drug coverage is actually quite good. What Congress is doing is enacting a universal coverage that would apply to everybody, regardless of their condition. So, instead of targeting the taxpayers' dollars to low-income seniors who really have the problem — the 25 percent or so who have the problem — we're creating a universal entitlement. We've really gone about this the wrong way.

GIBSON: Well, now, so what happens? The Republicans are always screaming against entitlements and they sure are screaming against exploding deficits. So, they have a firecracker with a fuse burning on this one?

MOFFIT: I think they have more than a firecracker here. We're talking about a huge program. And the cost of this is going to explode, as I say, as soon as the Baby Boomers come online.

We're looking at, according to the Medicare trustees, adding $2.6 trillion of unfunded liabilities to the Medicare program, just as a result of the $400 billion drug benefit. That's the unfunded liability that promises that we have to fund in the future years.

GIBSON: Mr Moffit, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

MOFFIT: You're welcome.

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