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The Hill - Defending Medicare for Future Generations

Op-Ed

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By Representative Virginia Foxx

Say the word Medicare in Washington, and you're sure to be in for a hot debate. It's not surprising why. Medicare is vitally important to millions of retired Americans who paid into the program during their working years, just as it matters to today's taxpayers who are covering Medicare's current bills. We all have a vested interest in Medicare's financial health and long-term viability.

But the conversation on Medicare is often disappointing. As we've seen in the past two political cycles, one side offers substantive ideas. The other employs sleight of hand by arguing tertiary points -- that the "idea guys" are scary, that the federal government doesn't need to change, and that if Americans paid more in taxes, things would be set right.

In the latter camp, little mention is ever made of the uncharted $16.2 trillion national debt that amounts to roughly $52,000 per American, or the fact that essential programs such as Medicare will owe $24.6 trillion dollars by 2085. Also missing is the fact that even if every small business, individual, and joint-filer making $250,000 a year gave their entire incomes right back to government, the revenue wouldn't cover Washington's bills for even one year.

The notion that Washington, its spending and its policies can stay the same is an insult to common sense. The numbers show Medicare is in big trouble. You deserve a facts-based discussion on the matter, so consider the following:

Many seniors are already facing the pain of a broken Medicare system and are being denied the care and personal choice they deserve. The American Medical Association reports that 1 in 3 primary doctors is limiting Medicare patients, and more than 1 in 8 is forced to deny Medicare patients altogether.
Medicare is mathematically unsustainable. When Medicare was created in 1965, baby boomers were teenagers. Today, more than 10,000 are retiring every day and there are nowhere near enough workers paying into Medicare to support them. And, though today's beneficiaries contributed $109,000 to Medicare over the course of their employment, the cost of their care and participation in the program is $343,000.
Healthcare costs are skyrocketing at nearly three times the rate of other inflation. Thus, the cost of Medicare is climbing too -- spending three times as much as it takes in.
You can imagine what happens to a program when it's underfunded and unsustainable, but needed by more people than ever - it goes broke. President Obama's own Health and Human Services actuary projects that in 14 years this will be the case for Medicare.

If we do nothing to fix this, we will lose Medicare. That is the simple truth.

Rather than address Medicare's financial emergency and debt-driver status as part of a fiscal cliff solution, President Obama seems content to ignore it and focus on tax increases.

"Power to the Patients" is the GOP Medicare mantra. Our reforms will secure the comfort and familiarity of the current Medicare program for all today's seniors. For future beneficiaries, Medicare will be patterned after the highly successful Medicare Advantage program. Future seniors will have the option to choose between traditional Medicare and a wide variety of competitive health plans (the same ones available to members of Congress), and apply premium assistance toward enrollment costs. This is the only credible proposal on the table to preserve Medicare, get its finances in order, and ensure its viability for years to come.

Anyone who claims Washington can continue deficit spending your future away while simultaneously promising increased benefits is wrong. If we reform in a responsible way now, we can save Medicare in a way that doesn't erode care or pass the burden of government's unfunded promises onto America's job creators today and our children and grandchildren tomorrow. Leaders who are willing to do that hard work now are the leaders who will save Medicare for this generation and generations to come. Will President Obama join House Republicans and become one such leader?


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