Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid finally rolled out his health care "floor" bill late Wednesday, and to no one's surprise, roughly half the claimed $838 billion cost over 10 years will be paid for by slashing more than $400 billion from Medicare.
Like the bill already approved by the House of Representatives, Reid's bill would gouge $118 billion from Medicare Advantage programs, which will virtually eliminate this popular managed care option chosen by some 13 million senior citizens. (How's that for keeping Obama's promise, "If you like your current insurance and your current doctor, you won't have to change"?)
Also like the House bill, the proposed cuts are presented as reductions in future cost increases. But commenting on the House version, a report issued a few days ago from the non-partisan Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid, confirmed that the cuts will reduce Medicare benefits and run a real risk of limiting seniors' access to care by reducing Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and doctors, driving up the numbers of providers who decline to accept Medicare patients. Now, Reid proposes that the Senate follow suit and screw seniors.
Of course, millions of seniors already have trouble finding primary care physicians in the midst of an acute shortage that will only get worse as the rolls of insured are expanded by the millions. And all too many top-notch specialists shun Medicare patients as it is. That's a big attraction of the Medicare Advantage programs that Congress wants to eliminate. They ensure access to a managed care network.
There is a lot of merit to the reform that Democrats are trying to push through. But there is nothing "progressive" about robbing Peter to pay Paul -- i.e., slashing Medicare in order to pay for fully half the cost of expanding coverage to others. Republicans are charging that the Medicare cuts will never be made, that it's all a sham to parade the bill as "deficit neutral," and that the Democratic Congress will keep deferring the cutbacks after the bill passes. Maybe, but for seniors, that would be betting their future care on the odd proposition that Reid, Nancy Pelosi and scores of other Democrats in Congress are all blatant liars. And what if the GOP retakes control of Congress by 2012? Republicans have been talking about curbing "entitlements" like Medicare and Medicaid for decades. Won't today's Democratic majorities have done their work for them?
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