By Eric Stewart
The seniors that I've met with on my 16-county tour across the 4th Congressional District don't really care about the political talking points and poll numbers used by Washington politicians to talk about Medicare. They all want to know the same thing: "How will the Paul Ryan/Scott DesJarlais plan for Medicare affect me, and will I have to pay more?"
If the Ryan/DesJarlais plan is enacted, our seniors will immediately see drastic changes. That's because the Ryan/DesJarlais plan charges seniors more for prescription drugs and makes seniors pay out-of-pocket for preventative care. Seniors can expect to see additional out-of-pocket costs in the future because the Ryan/DesJarlais plan turns Medicare into a voucher program.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the 2011 Ryan/DesJarlais plan for Medicare would lead to seniors paying an additional $6,300 out of pocket annually. The CBO has not evaluated the 2012 budget proposal, but says that it too could lead to higher out-of-pocket costs to our seniors. Given the out-of-pocket expenses in the 2011 Ryan/DesJarlais proposal that moves to full privatization of Medicare, there's no reason to expect anything but increased costs to seniors under their current hybrid-privatization model.
Congressmen Paul Ryan and Scott DesJarlais can say they're "Saving Medicare," all they want, but those words are of little comfort to current seniors on Medicare and future Medicare beneficiaries that will see a decrease in Medicare benefits and an increase in what they are asked to pay out of pocket.
Some of the proposed changes to Medicare would be gradual for our seniors, but under the Republican plan, the "donut hole" in Medicare would immediately be opened up, leading to seniors paying more for prescription drugs. Seniors would also be immediately asked to pay out of pocket for preventative care. This means women wanting to be screened for breast cancer or men wanting to be screened for colon cancer could immediately expect to have higher co-pays than what exists under the current law.
The Ryan/DesJarlais plan to privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher program "saves Medicare" by shifting health-care costs to seniors. I can think of few seniors that consider paying more out of pocket each month to be a savings. The value of the "voucher" will have little room for flexibility; while the cost of health care to consumers is guaranteed to rise.
Our seniors will lose under the voucher program when they're asked to pay more out of pocket, while big insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors are the ones that seek to gain financially. No commercial payer can wield the same volume of purchasing power that the federal government currently has through Medicare contracting.
When seniors are given a voucher and told to "go shop around," for a health insurance plan, the purchasing power of Medicare will end. Insurance companies, hospitals and doctors will undoubtedly take advantage of this opportunity to increase their own reimbursement rate, and given little flexibility in the value of the voucher, only one outcome is possible: The insurance companies will ask seniors to pay more and more out of pocket.
The solvency of Medicare has been a point of debate and discussion in the halls of Congress for years, as it should. The Medicare Board of Trustees estimates that under current law, Medicare would remain solvent through 2024. The Medicare Board of Trustees has also said that altering current law, as Ryan and DesJarlais have vowed to do, would make Medicare go broke as soon as 2016.
While there are many unknowns in the Ryan/DesJarlais plan for Medicare, increased costs to seniors is guaranteed. Their plan to continue giving tax breaks, and even increasing current tax breaks, to big oil companies, millionaires, billionaires, and corporations that ship our jobs overseas is not an unknown, it's what they've said they'll do.
When addressing Medicare's solvency, the question has to be asked: "Do we value keeping the promises we have made to our seniors more or less than we do continuing to give large tax breaks to big oil companies, millionaires, billionaires, and companies that ship our jobs overseas?"
Charging our seniors more for their health care is not "saving Medicare." Our seniors and soon-to-be seniors have been paying into Medicare for all of their working lives, and altering Medicare in a way that passes the costs on to our seniors is breaking the promises that we have made to them.
Charging our seniors more for their health care does not reflect our values in Tennessee. In Tennessee, we keep our promises.