Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Truth about Medicare and "Medi-Scare"

By now the fact checkers have had their way with Paul Ryan's speech and his ... uh ... clever use of the "facts" when it comes to budgets, the economy, and Medicare.   But it's the Medicare comments that have really bothered me.  At one time I was impressed with Paul Ryan's big ideas and willingness to challenge the country on Medicare spending.  While I was leery of the implementation of his voucher program, I was glad he was willing to have the tough conversation.  America's biggest fiscal threat is an aging population, the rapidly increasing retirements of Baby Boomers, and the un-bridled growth in health care costs and spending.

And then he gave an incredibly disingenuous speech.

Paul Ryan walked away from his credibility when he went to Florida and criticized President Obama for making "cuts" in Medicare, even though Ryan's much-touted budget plan makes the entire same cuts - which aren't cuts in benefits but restraints on runaway payments to doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals.  It was quite near hypocrisy - and then he went one step more.  Ryan literally accused the Democrats and President Obama of raiding Medicare while claiming "a Ryan-Romney administration will protect and strengthen Medicare."  Of course, that's simply not true, as Ryan's plan is to replace Medicare with a voucher program.  Replacing the program literally is an end to the program.

The critics have been quite vocal about this - but none has effectively articulated this as Paul Krugman has in his most recent column.  Krugman can be a bit much at times, and I don't always agree with his plans or his ideology and partisanship.  But his analysis of Medicare and Paul Ryan is spot on.  Medicare is pretty non-negotiable in this country because health care costs are unrestrained, and the private industry is not going to insure expensive people like senior citizens.  That's why we created Medicare in the first place.  And too many Republicans are forgetting that.  And too many Americans have crazy thoughts like "Keep your government hands off my Medicare."

Of course, Ryan was not wrong to question Medicare spending.  The plan needs reform, and that should begin with means testing and caps on benefits.  And retirees - and all Americans - need to do everything they can to enter retirement as healthy as possible.  And it really bothers me how poorly Americans take care of themselves and then expect incredibly cheap - to the point of almost free - health care in old age.  But a voucher program for seniors is not going to lower costs - and it's going to leave too many without adequate care.  And that is not good for a country.

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