“Dire Forecast Sparks New Medicare Debate” was the headline… June 6, 1996. In fact, according to Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, Medicare’s immediate extinction has been predicted no fewer than 18 times in the last 40 years. When it serves their political interests, the Chicken Littles from both parties squawk about how the nation’s insanely popular (albeit effectively socialized) medical system is going to go broke any moment.
The fact that none of these predictions has ever come true is not stopping Republicans today. They are using the latest Medicare trust fund forecasts to make a truly sick argument: Medicare might be in trouble eventually so, just to be safe, we’re going to destroy it now.
The facts are not in dispute. The Republican budget plan will double the out-of-pocket cost that seniors pay for health care by 2022. Meanwhile, instead of participating in a large government-backed group plan that brings with it economies of scale cost-wise, seniors will be left on their own to negotiate individually with private insurance companies. The “savings” from the Republican plan will partly go to the insurance industry in the form of vouchers and the rest will go to tax breaks for the richest of the rich.
In fact, the Republican budget which is being pushed under the guise that our nation’s deficit has reached a crisis point, will only reduce the deficit by 0.16% over the next 10 years. Over 70% of the “savings” from slashing Medicare and other public programs that help working families will go not to paying down our debt but, rather, giving more tax breaks to the rich. The same people who, according to several independent sources, are paying lower taxes than most ordinary Americans --- and paying the lowest overall tax rate in at least the last century.
It’s hard to now see Republicans, who have attacked Medicare since its very inception, now pretending to defend it. If Republicans had really wanted to strengthen Medicare, they might have supported at least one of the 60 pieces of legislation over the past 10 years to make the program better. Or they might have supported President Obama’s health care reform legislation, which will strengthen Medicare (and improve trust fund forecasts) but cutting excessive spending by 25%.
Frankly, the only thing that will be healthier under the Republican plan will be the bank accounts of insurance executives. Because their profits aren’t already high enough, they’ll now get government subsidies.
If Chicken Little had been a life-long anti-sky activist hell bent on destroying the atmosphere, even fictitious characters would have been nuts to believe her when she screamed about the sky falling, seeing right through her self-serving tricks.
Similarly, since Republicans have spent most of their political existence railing against government in general and Medicare in specific, we’d be crazy to trust them to honestly diagnose the situation --- let alone solve it. After all, the Republican leaders are as genuinely concerned about the long-term health of Medicare as profit-hungry insurance corporations are concerned about your health.
Sally Kohn, a community organizer and political commentator. She is the founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab. You can follow her on Twitter @sallykohn or Facebook at movementvision.