It took me a few paragraphs to figure out what GOP chairman Michael Steele was getting at in Protecting Our Seniors, his Op-Ed in yesterday’s Washington Post. Near the top he says:
Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors. That is why Republicans support a Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights, which we are introducing today, to ensure that our greatest generation will receive access to quality health care. We also believe that any health-care reform should be fully paid for, but not funded on the backs of our nation’s senior citizens.
It sounds sensible –especially the “first, do no harm” allusion to Hippocrates– but what does he mean exactly? It turns out the whole article is an exercise in subtle fear-mongering with phrases such as:
- “government-run health-care system”
- “prohibit government from getting between seniors and their doctors”
- “government-run health-care experiment”
- “government boards”
- “outlaw any effort to ration health care based on age”
- “protect our veterans”
It’s obvious that Steele is trying to kill health care reform and preserve the status quo while pretending to be in favor of reform. Senior citizens are the group most in favor of the status quo, and with good reason. There is universal, government sponsored health care for old folks (i.e., Medicare), which is funded by a regressive tax on wage earners.
Everyone who works –including folks who don’t have health insurance– pays 1.65 percent of their income as a Medicare tax. Their employer pays an equal amount. This money goes to fund Medicare –a program open to anyone who meets the age or disability criteria regardless of income or wealth. But it’s actually worse than that because almost half of Medicare is paid for out of general taxation. And to make things even worse, dual-eligible patients (eligible for Medicare and Medicaid) suck down a big portion of the Medicaid budget for nursing home costs that I believe should be counted as part of Medicare costs.
Meanwhile, under Republican leadership, Medicare got even more generous: adding an outpatient drug benefit and the expensive Medicare Advantage plans.
Steele asserts that seniors should be exempt from any changes, but why shouldn’t we consider inter-generational equity? He argues that seniors are our “greatest generation,” which I assume is a reference to WWII veterans. But it’s baby boomers who are starting to retire now so whatever merit that argument had is losing out.
Let’s face it: seniors receive an inordinate share of government health care spending. That’s why Steele thinks he can get them on his side.August 25, 2009