Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Republicans about to trash Medicare with prescription drug bill

If you or your parents or grandparents depend on Medicare, you need to understand this issue, since it could affect their life and health.

Business as usual with aWol's malAdministration is bait and switch. The prescription bill is no exception.

Jacob Hacker writes in The Times: How Not to Fix Medicare:

Bluntly put, the House legislation is a ruse. The bill delivers a prescription drug benefit, but this benefit is simply the attractive window dressing for the legislation's ultimate aim: fundamentally revamping Medicare to create a competitive system based on private health plans.

That is, the ruse is "bait and switch" for privatization.

Consider the bill's major features. Private health insurers would be given increased government payments so that they could sweeten their benefits to lure the elderly and the disabled out of the traditional Medicare program. Beneficiaries choosing private plans with lower premiums would get a rebate from the government; those choosing plans with higher premiums would have to pay more. In 2010, the traditional program would be forced to compete with private plans. From then on, the amount that beneficiaries paid for Medicare would be set not by law, but by market forces.

This might sound like a great way to encourage consumer choice — until one realizes that the cost of alternative insurance options would be mainly determined by the health of those enrolled. Since the least healthy enrollees would most likely stay in traditional Medicare rather than brave the private market, the program's premiums would likely rise substantially. This would encourage healthier beneficiaries to seek lower premiums in the private sector, leaving only the sickest behind.

So, cherry picking by the private firms, while those who actually need help are thrown away. It's happened before:

beneficiaries would be forced to turn first to private insurers, which would be able to set their own premiums for drug coverage. (The Senate bill allows for a drug benefit directly through Medicare only if a beneficiary does not have access to more than one private drug insurance plan in his region.)

Because drug costs are risky and expensive to cover, few insurers seem eager to sign up for this complex and untested idea. But even if private plans emerged, the likely result would be chaos as insurance companies continually dropped coverage and altered their benefits — which is precisely what has happened to millions of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in private H.M.O.'s over the past five years.

But don't worry! By the time this disaster unfolds, aWol and his friends will have left town!

Not coincidentally, perhaps, none of this will become clear until after the 2004 election. Republicans may ride a prescription drug benefit back into office. But the bills on the table now are mainly a prescription for resentment and dashed expectations — and, most fearful of all, for the unraveling of the social compact that has made Medicare an integral part of American social policy for nearly 40 years.

I wonder what the chances are that the companies making the money on privatizing Medicare will be big contributors to the Republican party?

Why any Democrat, even the most gutless or feckless one, is voting for this fraudulent bill is beyond my imagination. Remember Max Cleland? He compromised with the Republicans on the tax cut, and then they ran ads against him calling him a traitor on homeland security -- and he was a VietNam veteran and triple amputee. You can trust the Republicans -- to be Republicans.