Monday, April 1, 2013

Back to the “Golden Age” for Those in Their Golden Years?

In his quest to find a “middle ground” (read appease the ruling elite), President Obama has been meeting with Republicans behind closed doors to come up with a plan to dismantle Medicare. According to the New York Times, Obama has proposed cost savings by combining Medicare A and B, which would significantly increase seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses.

Currently, Medicare A is used for hospital visits and has a deductible of $1,184 per year, while Medicare B, which is used for out-patient services and doctors’ visits, is only $147. Patients can see their doctors as often as they need to and typically use Medicare B (the cheaper of the two programs) much more frequently. Combining the two into one program would necessarily result in higher costs for patients, as the new deductible would fall somewhere in between and, more significantly, patients would be paying the higher deductible for the more common outpatient services and doctors’ visits.

Obama has been saying for months that he is open to compromise on Medicare if that is what is necessary to get Republicans to support a tax increase. The Times suggests that the Medicare deal would likely end Republican threats to privatize Medicare and even end debate on the matter. However, Democrats and Republicans still remain far apart on “revenue increases,” the euphemism being used to indicate that the final deal might not include any tax increases at all and could even include further austerity for the middle class, like an end to the mortgage interest deduction on their income taxes. In typical Obama fashion, he started bargaining from a position of weakness and offered the store without winning anything concrete in return.

Increasing Medicare costs is a risky move politically, as seniors have among the highest rate of voter participation in the country and have almost universal support for the program. Medicare, which was implemented in 1965, along with the expansion of Social Security, contributed to a decline in poverty among seniors from 30% in 1965, to less than 10% today, the WSWS reports.

Inexpensive health care for seniors has also contributed to their increasing longevity. According to a Harvard study, 45,000 Americans die each year because they lack health coverage. The study also found that uninsured working-age Americans had a 40% higher chance of dying prematurely than their insured counterparts. Slashing Medicare benefits and making them more expensive will likely increase the death rate for seniors, too, because they will be less likely to see their doctors for routine checkups and maintenance of chronic illnesses.

Consequently, the new plan could take seniors back to a time when they were dying much sooner from treatable conditions and had a worse quality of life because of poverty.

The “debate” over Medicare has little to do with resolving any sort of budget crisis and everything to do with reducing government spending on “entitlements” that benefit the majority of Americans so that there is more tax revenue available to subsidize low taxes for the rich and to subsidize their businesses. The rich already have Cadillac insurance plans, subsidized by their employees, and not only have no need for Medicare themselves, but find it outrageous that any of their taxes should go toward keeping people alive who are no longer “productive” (read: exploitable at the workplace).

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