Dismantling Medicare won’t fix America’s broken health care system

The future of Medicare seemed the topic du jour for me last weekend. On Saturday, the issue was protecting Medicare. I heard from both state Rep. Sal Pace and his opponent in the race for the Colorado 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton, regarding their conflicting plans for preserving and protecting Medicare.

On Sunday, I watched the Fareed Zakaria CNN Special, “The GPS Road Map for Saving Health Care.” The program compared a number of very successful national health care programs in European and Asian countries to each other, and to the American system.

Among other questions, Zakaria asked how American health care could cost almost twice as much as other systems worldwide, yet deliver results that are mediocre by all measures of public health success.

I highly recommend this documentary, which will repeat on CNN March 24. Even those who disagree with Zakaria’s conclusions can learn from his examples of different national health care systems that deliver better services at lower costs than our own.

Most successful national health care programs are not the socialized medicine feared by the right, but government programs administered through private or independent companies. The Obama health care plan would be of similar design.

Pace was in town Saturday and joined a small group of seniors to talk and answer questions about Medicare and the Affordable Health Care Act. Pace affirmed his support for traditional Medicare, and revealed that he had signed a pledge to seniors to protect Medicare in its current form.

Pace criticized Tipton for flip-flopping on his 2010 promise to never privatize Medicare or cut benefits to seniors by voting for the House (Ryan) budget that would have done both.

“I’m asking Scott Tipton to join me in this promise to protect and strengthen Medicare,” Pace said, “because our seniors deserve better” than the GOP program offers.

Also on Saturday, I got a mailer from Tipton touting his promise “to ensure that Medicare is preserved and protected for today’s beneficiaries and for generations to come.”

If this sounds like a bit of partisan comity of the sort we would like to see in Washington — legislators working across party lines for the common good — don’t be fooled. Preserving Medicare in Republican campaign rhetoric means ending this successful senior health program by passing the infamous Ryan budget.

The Ryan plan, expected to pass the House again this term, would transform Medicare from a defined benefits insurance program to a voucher system.

“Premium support payments,” or vouchers, would vary in value depending on the health status and income of the beneficiary.

Kaiser Health News warned that “by 2030, under the (Ryan) plan, typical 65 year olds would be required to pay 68 percent of the total cost of their coverage ... according to CBO. That compares with the 25 percent they would pay under current law, CBO said.”

Also for Tipton, the “future generations” who would get current Medicare benefits ends with people who are now 50. Thereafter, seniors would be given vouchers to supplement their own funds to purchase health insurance on the open market or to obtain it from Medicare.

Anyone who expects insurance companies to tailor their policies to keep costs within the economic range of voucher holders is naïve. Costs will escalate and vouchers soon will be only the down payment on a costly policy.

However, a slight 47 percent plurality of Americans prefer that system, according to a recent Gallup poll. With the responses largely divided along party lines, 42 percent of Americans, want to maintain Medicare as it is. The remainder is undecided.

As the Gallup poll put it, “Views on this issue are highly partisan, with Republicans strongly in favor of repeal and the large majority of Democrats wanting the law kept in place.”

If nothing else, the conflict over health care highlights the desperate need for reform of the current medical delivery system. As economist Dean Baker puts it, medical costs in the United States are double those of the rest of the world, but outcomes are no better.

These conditions won’t be changed by returning power to the private sector insurance companies largely responsible for the current health care crisis.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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