Friday, November 20, 2009

Democrats ready to commit suicide? Senate health bill will slash $491 billion from Medicare

Seniors back Medicare overwhelmingly, as do non-seniors!

The official analysis of the Senate health care "reform" bill on which Majority Leader Harry Reid wants the first vote tomorrow is out from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The most important number in this "scoring" of the bill is this: it will cut Medicare by a whopping $491 billion.

As was the case with the House bill, most of the public debate and media attention to the Senate version concerns the "public option," the total cost and new taxes proposed, and whether or not federal money will somehow wind up paying for abortions.

The huge Medicare cuts are still largely hidden from view, because Democrats don't want to talk about them and most Republicans talk about the cuts only by way of accusing Democrats of using budgetary flim-flim to make the bills appear "deficit neutral."

But these cuts are a very big deal. They will affect some 46 million current Medicare beneficiaries and millions more who are past 55 and beginning to worry about health care coverage in retirement. As the full impact of these cuts becomes clear to this reliably voting segment of the population, the backlash against any member of Congress foolish enough to vote for the bills will be fierce and merciless.

It's as if Democrats in Congress are prepared to commit political suicide. They have backed themselves into a corner where the failure to pass a bill -- any bill -- is viewed as a blow to President Obama and an affront to labor unions and other powerful constituencies that back the changes. In my view, the backlash will not only strike House "Blue Dogs" and Senate moderates who vote for the bills. It will hit liberal Democrats running in Democrat-friendly states and districts, as long as the GOP is smart and nimble enough to put up strong, appealing candidates. For example, New York's appointed junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, may face Rudy Giuliani next year. If so, Rudy will not be shy about positioning himself as pro-senior and pro-Medicare, as Gillibrand tries to explain away her vote for some $500 billion in Medicare cuts.

That won't be easy, since the cuts will have a real and demonstrable negative impact, as the federal agency that administers Medicare reported a few days ago.

According to the CBO, these are the big blows to Medicare as we know it in the Senate bill:

• Permanent reductions in the annual updates to Medicare’s payment rates for most services in the fee-for-service sector to "save" $192 billion over 10 years.

• Cutting $118 billion from Medicare Advantage programs that now enroll more than 13 million seniors over the 2010–2019 period.

• Reducing Medicaid and Medicare payments to hospitals that serve a large number of low-income patients by $43 billion -- about $22 billion from Medicaid and $21 billion from Medicare.

In addition, the bill would create a new agency -- the Independent Medicare Advisory Board -- that would be required to "recommend changes to the Medicare program to [further] limit the rate of growth in that program’s spending. Those recommendations would go into effect automatically unless blocked by subsequent legislative action." In other words, a panel of bureacrats, not accountable to anyone, would propose further cutbacks in Medicare that Congress would not have to vote on and the President would not have to sign into law, thus insulating the politicians from blame for the cuts.

All in all, if the Democrats pass either the Senate or the House bill with cuts of this kind into law, they have to be crazy if they think they will avoid the wrath of the senior voters.

What do you think? Post a comment.

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