Medicare Drug Plan Promotes
Dependence on Government
The House Version of the Medicare Bill
Passed by Only One Vote
by Deroy Murdock
July 10, 2003
As America celebrates 227 years of independence, Washington promotes
Americans' dependence on government. The Medicare drug entitlement
hurtling through Congress is a $400 billion/ten-year overdose of outlays and
regulations that addresses an overstated need. If the Founding Fathers' legacy
means anything, this bill should be scrapped and replaced with pro-freedom
Congress' advice here is: "Take eight aspirin and call us in
the morning." It offers a 100 percent solution to a 24
percent problem. Thus, Congress prescribes more than
four times the necessary portion of big government.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid
Services, 76 percent of seniors possess drug insurance
through pensions, Medicaid or private policies. Only 24
percent don't. Of these, some have low drug expenses.
Others need no public assistance. And still others face high
drug bills and low incomes. These Americans deserve
society's compassion and targeted, narrowly tailored
But instead of local painkillers, Congress is administering
general anesthesia. All seniors are eligible for the House
and Senate plans, including those with existing drug
coverage. Beside destitute grandmothers surviving on
Social Security, Leona Helmsley, Happy Rockefeller, and
Gloria Vanderbilt also could have their pharmacy bills
partially subsidized by low-income taxpayers starting jobs,
families and small businesses.
It takes a billionaire to appreciate this initiative's long-term
cost. As the aptly-named Medicare trustee, Thomas
Saving, estimated in the June 24 Wall Street Journal, this
drug benefit would create a new, unfunded liability of $7.5
trillion. That's $7,500,000,000,000.
This "reform" measure also is hopelessly complex. Rep.
Ron Paul (R., Tex.) bitingly dubs it "HillaryCare,
Republican Style." S1 the 654-page Senate version,
online at thomas.loc.gov boasts
101 miscellaneous provisions and 101,633 words. Among its more riveting
passages is this excerpt from Sec. 421:
For purposes of payment for services furnished on
or after January 1, 2004, and before January 1, 2008,
after calculating the work geographic indices in
subparagraph (A) (iii), the Secretary shall increase
the work geographic index to the work floor index
for any locality for which such geographic index is
less than the work floor index.
If you fathomed that, dig this:
SEC. 430. ELIMINATION OF CONSOLIDATED
BILLING FOR CERTAIN SERVICES UNDER THE
MEDICARE PPS FOR SKILLED NURSING
(c) TECHNICAL AMENDMENT - Sections 1842 (b)
(6) (E) and 1866 (a) (1) (H) (ii) (42 U.S.C. 1395u (b)
(6) (E); 1395cc (a) (1) (H) (ii) ) are each amended by
striking "section 1888(e) (2) (A) (ii)" and inserting
"clauses (ii), (iii), and (iv) of section 1888 (e) (2)
Under the Senate's bill, seniors would pay $35 monthly
premiums plus $275 yearly deductibles. Beyond that,
taxpayers cover half of drug costs up to $4,500. Then
in a so-called "donut hole" coverage totally vanishes
until pharmacy costs hit $5,812.50, above which today's workers foot 90
percent of those bills. Got that?
Republicans hope to remove this matter from next year's election (what could be
worse than issue-filled campaigns?). Good luck. Just imagine Senator Ted
Kennedy (D., Mass.) yelling, "Fill the -uh donut!" to underwrite drug
bills between $4,501 and $5,812.49.
If this sounds paranoid, consider Kennedy's June 18 statement to CNN's Judy
Woodruff: "When we get this as a down payment, we're going to come back
again and again and again..." Kennedy's fellow Democrats will demand higher
expenditures, lower premiums, and slashed deductibles. And if Republicans
object, Democrats will accuse them of orchestrating Granny's slow, painful,
Despite the GOP's allergy to principle, seniors seem unimpressed. A June 23
Galen Institute/Zogby survey found that 74 percent of those with drug insurance
rate the Senate plan worse than their current coverage. Also, this benefit would
not begin until January 1, 2006, 60 weeks after the November 2004 elections.
The GOP's hurry-up-and-wait strategy is reckless policy and dubious politics.
Time is not on the GOP's side, argues Ed Haislmaier, visiting research fellow at
the Heritage Foundation's Center for Health Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
"Not only does this legislation not get this issue off the table before
election day; it gives seniors time to figure out who's going to get less
coverage under this measure."
Seniors "who have employer-sponsored retirement coverage are going to see it
dropped or scaled back," Haislmaier predicts. Hence, "the drug benefit is going
to be like a rotting carcass in the middle of the table come Election Day."
If Haislmaier sounds alarmist, so does the Congressional Budget Office. It
expects 37 percent of seniors with employer-funded drug policies to lose them
as their former bosses hip-check these obligations to Uncle Sam.
This plan should be torn up and rewritten. True reform would let seniors who
like traditional Medicare keep it, while critics could drop it. Needy elders
would receive payments, on a scale that slid as incomes rose, to help purchase
private plans with features (drugs, vision care, chiropractic, treatment by
doctors they prefer, etc.) to suit their tastes.
Sue Blevins, president of the Washington-based Institute for Health Freedom,
insists that "any Medicare reform should state clearly that enrollment in
all parts of Medicare is voluntary, and that seniors are free to choose and
pay privately for all of the health-care services of their choice."
Republicans should stop aping Democrats. They should pitch seniors on
freedom, choice and, when poverty persists, the public resources to fund these
things. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D. who, unlike Ted Kennedy,
actually has performed open-heart surgery should be able to sell this.
President Bush, who recently dislodged an entrenched dictator in three weeks,
also should be able to trounce Cape Cod's 71-year-old socialist warhorse with
a message of patient power. If only they tried.
The House measure passed by one vote on June 27  at 2:33 A.M. Three
skeptical Republicans were among those whose arms the House leadership twisted
before approval: [Oklahoma's Ernest Istook, North Carolina's Sue Myrick, and
Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey].
And remember this: If Republicans controlled Congress and the White House,
this headache never would have happened.
Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.