Enemy of the state? Give me a break

Overall the Boston Globe has done a pretty good job of covering the topic of health care, but yesterday’s op-ed In Medicare blame game, seniors aren’t at fault by Margaret Morganroth Gullette demonstrates that the editors aren’t immune from inanity.

I don’t know what motivated Gullette to pen this piece, beyond promoting her forthcoming book. But she’s not too well informed on Medicare policy. Here are a few of her observations as a new Medicare recipient::

Those of us on Medicare are targets of serious accusations that our old age is costing the nation too much, that we are “overtreated,” and that we will cause the  bankruptcy of Medicare very soon…

I am the same self, in the same body, getting the same treatment as a year ago. But suddenly I am being accused of being an enemy of the state.

I should point out that I pay for my Medicare. I didn’t know in advance it would be so expensive. I pay $96 a month or $1152 a year…

I’m unaware of anyone calling Medicare beneficiaries enemies of the state or accusing them of anything in particular. In addition, it’s funny that she thinks she’s paying for Medicare. Her $96 per month is a paltry contribution to total costs.

The real issue here is the country’s policy on inter-generational equity, not the actions of individual Medicare patients.

Everyone who works –including lots of people who lack 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.

During the Bush years, Medicare got even more generous: adding an outpatient drug benefit and the expensive Medicare Advantage plans.

Opponents of health care reform have cynically been trying to get Medicare beneficiaries on their side, arguing that people on Medicare will suffer as their benefits are taken away. Some have urged that the so-called “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug benefit be closed. I think it would be fairer to take that doughnut away completely, at least until everyone has access to health insurance.

January 5, 2010

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