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Latest Awful Medicare Privatization Plan

category_bug_politics.gif The Republicans will not ever give up their goal to kill Medicare. Not ever. Whatever they call it, however they dress it up, it's really privatization designed to kill Medicare.

(By the way, they've got a new name for it this time around - "premium support" but it means vouchers and that means privatization.)

Last year, it was Republican Senator Representative Paul Ryan's draconian voucher program. A few months after that plan died on arrival Ryan tried a second voucher idea, hooking up with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (embarrassingly, of my own state) to make it look kinder and gentler.

That one died too.

Now, in less than one year, there is a third variant on the idea of Medicare voucher programs – this one from Senators Tom Coburn (R-Ok) and Richard Burr (R-NC) who gave it the Orwellian title of Seniors Choice Act.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) carefully explains that the Burr/Coburn plans would provide seniors a voucher for their health care, a plan that would

• shift a growing share of Medicare costs to beneficiaries without reducing overall costs in the program

• undermine traditional Medicare

• leave millions of seniors without health coverage in retirement

• raise premiums for middle-class retirees

Richard Eskow of Campaign for America's Future, says the same thing more bluntly:

“Burr and Coburn want you to believe that they can raise the Medicare eligibility age, make you pay more in premiums, turn your health care over to the same insurers that are bankrupting you before you're sixty-five (if you're lucky enough to have insurance) - and that somehow you'll save money!”

More from Max Richtman, president and CEO of NCPSSM:

“This latest Medicare privatization scheme is nothing more than the GOP/Ryan plan on steroids,” he writes. “Not only does it promise savings that most private insurers have never achieved in providing coverage to seniors, it also delays health care coverage to age 67, and raises premiums for millions of American retirees...

“This legislation would take us back to the days when America’s aged and infirm were forced to find health insurance in a private marketplace that wouldn’t serve them because it simply wasn’t profitable.”

If you are interested, there are many more details and explanations at those links above. But I have two important things to say about this latest “kill Medicare” bill.

First, Republicans keep picking away at Medicare, making it more acceptable with each assault to talk out loud about reducing the amount of health care elders can have. Their plans include the same two, tired, unworkable ideas about how to do this: turn coverage over to private insurers (we all know how well that has succeeded with more than 50 million uninsured) and by pricing coverage out of elders' reach.

Meanwhile, Democrats are complicit by doing absolutely nothing.

They do not push back against Republican plans. They do not offer ideas of their own to reign in health care costs. And they do not promote single-payer, universal care for everyone that works quite well in all other developed nations.

They, the Democrats, do nothing.

Second, all these Republican plans involve giving elders vouchers with which to purchase private coverage. In addition to the economic problems with this approach, it adds a layer of difficulty that for some elders is insurmountable because it works like the prescription drug plan (Part D). Here's what I mean:

Because I do not take any prescription drugs and because there is no way on earth to predict what prescription drugs I might need in the future, I purchase the cheapest Part D plan each year and hope that should I need one or more prescription drugs in the year, it will be in my insurance carrier's formulary.

If not, I will have to pay full price until the next January when I can purchase a new Part D plan.

Even so and even with the spread sheet of possible policies provided at medicare.gov, it is a time-consuming chore trying to compare premiums, co-pays and deductibles to make the most economical choice.

And that is only drugs. Overall health coverage has maybe a hundred more variables to consider and they are always hard to match up against one another.

And what if you're sick? Or what if you are the caregiver for an ailing parent or spouse? Or what if you're just a little bit slower to catch on these days that you used to be?

Choosing then becomes a terrible, time-consuming, frightening burden that makes the title of the Coburn/Burr plan - Seniors Choice Act – a demonic, sick joke.

This plan won't go any further than the first two from last year, but I tell you about it because we must pay attention. If we don't, they will slip one of these past us one day.

Now, because you've been good enough to sit through this rather dry diatribe, here is your reward: Jon Stewart of The Daily Show Monday night taking on the Catholic bishops and birth control.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: For the Love of a Cousin


It's not dry, Ronni, and thank you for all the info.the links, (and Jon Stewart too). They'll not rest until they CAN slip it by us and what makes my blood pressure rise is, as you say, the Democrats do nothing. Why do they run from confrontation --in politics of all things. I wasn't aware of this new Coburn-Burr variant, so thanks for all you wrote. We need to know.

Sometimes I feel like you are the only advocate standing between us and these vultures. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Part of the GOP strategy has been to portray Obama and the Democrats as spineless do-nothings who allow themselves to be walked on like the back door mat. As an American who lives outside the country it's easier to see, because we get a more balanced viewpoint.

I worked for daily newspapers for years and what is now presented as "Hard News" is so biased that my editors would have either kicked my @ss or suggested I send it over to OP ED.

What Democrats have to do is to stop talking about the GOP's list of Democrat's "failure's" and start talking about what's been accomplished. The *failures* have come about because the GOP blocked positive action in their blood lust to make Obama a one-termer.

In the American system it's a numbers game. If there are three holding a vote, two are a deciding majority, even when they are in the wrong. But can they point the finger to the one dissenter and say, "Spineless twit - you should have voted us down!"? Well, that's exactly what they are doing.

What Democrats need to do is replace Democrats who vote with Republicans. Replace them with people who will support the party and not defect to the opposition.

And start talking about the successes of this administration, rather than its perceived failures.

By doing nothing, the Democrats do something. They allow unjust policies to proceed, without having to appear as the "bad cops" themselves.

I had not seen the Jon Stewart episode, and it provided me with a few good laughs along with feeding my growing aggravation with religious dogma. Thank you.

Wyden is one of those Democrats in name only as he really favors corporate interests time and again. IF the Democratic party had given us any choice, he'd not be a Senator but they never do and the rest of what you wrote here is why someone like me could NEVER vote for a Republican even if our only democratic choice might be disappointing time and again (and as I have been told, he doesn't even live in Oregon since he married a NYC rich wife.) Senators like Wyden are only waiting around for their chance to become lobbyists for more money. Representing people in this state is a laugh... still when I vote, I'd vote for him as what is the alternative? You listed well what we get from Republicans-- and then some.

I agree with you, and I am an insurance agent dealing with Medicare-related products. I hate Part D and how ridiculously complex it is - all because it was turned over to insurance companies.

In Arizona, where I live, there are 30 Part D plans available. Why? Does this "competition" save Medicare money? No, because Medicare actually pays for the drugs - to the tune of $60 billion in 2010. And 75% of that cost goes for expensive brand drugs.

Does it make it simpler for people on these plans? Definitely not, because plans change each year, drugs are dropped from coverage, and premiums can double. So people need to pay close attention, no matter their age.

I have spent hours trying to find the "best" plan for clients with a long list of prescriptions, and still was not sure my information was completely accurate.

An FYI about your Part D plan. If your doctor prescribes a drug in the middle of they year that the plan doesn't cover, they must make an exception for you. Of course, your doctor will have to jump through some hoops to show that you need that particular drug.

Part D was a gift to pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies. The insurance companies have used Part D to move more people into their Medicare Advantage plans. And while you are worried about new plans to privatize Medicare, it is already well underway, with Medicare Advantage enrollment growing by more than 1 million each year. Now more than 25% of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in these private plans, and there are no signs that this trend will be reversed by less money being paid to these plans.

The battle never stops. Now we don't even get a breather between the wars. Thank you for being the best warrior I know who does not let fatigue stop you from continuing to struggle against the venal ideologues.

What Darlene said.
Thanks so much for keeping us informed. And yes it's a never-ending war.
Charlotte D

I applaud Denise, the insurance agent, for the truth and edification in her comment.

Advantage plans offer lower deductibles, a small payment toward dental cleanings and x-rays, and a $45 payment toward an eye exam every two years. But they are private insurance companies who administer Medicare! You're still stuck with the 20% co-insurance for Part B, and $200 per day for the first 5 days of a hospital stay. Ironically, the 'extras' were the deciding factor for me. The $35 monthly premium covers what has been out of pocket expense for me with a standard individual policy.

I'm 65 and spent months researching the various options before deciding on an Advantage plan. It was daunting to say the least and wouldn't be possible for someone without dogged patience, or any cognitive decline.

The statistic I see most often is that 75% of Medicare is used by 25% of the recipients, and the major outlay for otherwise healthy individuals, is at the end of life, which is understandable, but often causes extension of life without quality of life.

If you have a good idea how to limit costs, by all means write your congresspersons,and explain how important Medicare is to you!

Well they can modify Medicare just as soon as they slash the defense budget, eliminate ALL corporate tax giveaways, eliminate All federal pensions for elected officials and all political appointees.

Finally one more thing, raise taxes on the non job creating 1%. I suggest the pre Regan 70% rate.

Ronni, the insurance stuff is only dry when you're 20 and immortal--not when you're wading through Part D "explanations" with your fingers crossed ;)

Like you, my husband in standard Medicare, but with no prescriptions yet, just picks the least expensive local Part D. Like all health insurance, this feels like it will really work until we need it and then ... ?

I have private insurance because I'm too young for Medicare. There is no way it feels secure, despite having paid ever-rising premiums for five years with no claims. We never ought to trust these people again, since they are famous for canceling coverage the instant people get sick, yet politicians of both parties keep shoving us into their laps. Yech!

I'm still mourning the public option! That was our last, best hope for health care in America.

I am in agreement with everything stated in this article but It would really help if you got the facts right from the outset - Paul Ryan is not a Senator. Factual misteps like that just lend themselves to the opposition

Of course, you are right and it's been corrected.

I'm guessing you have never, in haste, made a mistake in your life. Good for you. Even so, I must mention that on this blog people are not nearly as snotty as you when they point out errors.

The single payer health plan really is the best way to go. I wish there was a site that gave side by side comparisons to show how much our total health care costs were in the private sector and the amount of taxes we would pay in a government funded program like Great britain's to have all of our health care needs addressed.

Once people saw that they are forking over much more of their income with our broken health care system the way it is compared to paying higher taxes to be fully covered under a single-payer plan, they might then want to tar and feather those who have been supporting the private health care system in this country.

Yaaaargh !!
At 75 I should NOT have to continue fighting idiots, numb-skulls, bigots and right-wing religious nuts just to keep my head above water.

At least in the 1960s I was young and strong enough to stand up and fight in the Civil Rights Movement.

Now, not so much. But I'll keep on fighting until they take me out feet first. And at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that I did my very best to overcome these evils that humans foist upon other humans ... sighhh

Denise made some good points.

Medicare Advantage is an advantage to the insurance companies - healthy people may benefit, as long as they STAY healthy. My experience is that as people get older they don't want choices, they want stability and security. Vouchers will only add more confusion and cost.

Ronni, that was a great answer to Chris.

Please take even more government money! My generation (much smaller than yours) will happily foot the bill. Even though you are now much wealthier than us, and you don't really contribute to the economy or technological growth of society in any way, it is only natural that we mortgage our future so that you can enjoy the freedom of chastising us for not wanting to pay for you! Nothing would make me happier than to see the per capita debt of the country increase, because you've earned it! I'll go back to my job now and shut up, because millions of people like you depend on me!

When reading the comment preceding mine I was concerned.

There seems to be some misinformation about the financial status of many elders in this nation.

There seems to be a failure to understand all the issues and the efforts being made to protect and preserve the security of the generations to come, including my children and grandchildren and theirs.

There seems to be a generalization that the 1% elders represent all older people.

I could say much more, but I have to prepare some materials for my job on Monday. I didn't have the luxury of a President's Day holiday last week (or some other yearly holidays) and I don't get paid sick leave, or paid vacation in my part time job. I keep paying for many of the costs I had when I worked full time, and, of course, I pay my income tax.

I could say much more, but I have to get back to preparing materials for my job Monday. I'll keep letting people know the true Social Security and Medicare facts because millions of people and future generations depend on me and others to do so.

Thanks Ronni, for this excellent informative piece!
I appreciate your efforts to keep me aware of these serious issues.

In fact it is Obama who is killing seniors. His national healthcare law strips 500 billion from Medicare, and also sets up a fascistic national panel to determine what health care the elderly will get.
Think: "pain management," not care, for seniors.

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