By Representative Elton Gallegly
The president and my friends on the other side of the aisle cut $500 billion out of Medicare as part of their ill-conceived $1 trillion health care law. But more devastating to seniors, they set up an independent panel of unelected bureaucrats -- who are subject to limited congressional oversight -- but who have the power to deny care to millions of seniors.
To cover up those actions, they have embarked on a scare-tactics campaign, telling Americans that my like-minded colleagues' and my attempts to find a solution to the Medicare crisis means we want to destroy Medicare. I am open to any ideas, but their plan to do nothing other than cut a half-trillion from Medicare funding and ration care will result in an immediate 17 percent cut in benefits or an immediate 24 percent tax increase when Medicare goes bankrupt in 2024, according to the Medicare trustees. The Congressional Budget Office predicts it will be bankrupt even earlier -- in 2020.
And that will affect everyone -- those currently on Medicare, those a few short years from Medicare, and generations to come.
If Medicare is to be solvent for the next generations, it must be reformed. I will oppose any plan that affects current Medicare recipients and those close to retirement, but most everything else is on the table that will lower costs, preserve the doctor-patient relationship and restore Medicare to solvency.
When Medicare was created in 1965, baby boomers were preteens or teenagers. Today, those baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day. In addition, when Medicare was created, the average American lived to age 70, versus age 79 today. That means they have tripled the years they receive Medicare.
Today, one out of every eight Americans receives Medicare. At the same time, fewer workers are paying into the system.
Couple that with escalating health care costs, which are rising nearly 8 percent a year, or four times the rate of inflation. Because of health care inflation and fewer workers paying into the system, in 10 years Medicare contributions will only cover 33 percent of Medicare benefits, compared to 68 percent 10 years ago.
It doesn't take an economist to realize the trend is unsustainable. If we do nothing, Medicare spending will nearly double over the next decade, exhausting its remaining funds and leaving all seniors without coverage unless Congress drastically raises taxes.
Despite the false accusations used in the scare-tactics campaign by his political allies, such as MoveOn.org, the president knows we must move forward:
"But if we don't make any changes at all, we won't be able to keep our commitment to a retiring generation that will live longer and will face higher health care costs than those who came before," President Obama said in April.
Unfortunately, the changes the president has been making are counterproductive and will continue the march toward Medicare's demise.
The first step is for President Obama to restore the $500 billion he took from Medicare and disband the panel he created and charged with rationing care for seniors.
The next step is to shed light on the Obama administration's proposal to force Medicare recipients into accountable care organizations. ACOs are teams of hospitals, doctors and other care providers that would be responsible for all the medical needs of a group of Medicare patients. Most patients will not choose their ACO, according to published reports. Instead, they will be assigned to one, once again taking away a patient's right to choose.
Also, rather than suppress health care costs, which is the stated goal of ACOs, as the ACOs grow larger and more powerful, they are more likely to suppress competition and drive up costs.
President Obama and his allies are not attempting to destroy Medicare; they are destroying Medicare.
Any solution Congress and the president devise must preserve choice and the doctor-patient relationship, bring costs down, and provide a solid safety net for seniors in need. It must not change Medicare for those now receiving its benefits or those close to retirement.
I challenge the president to stop the scare tactics and work with Congress to develop such a plan.