The huge irony of watching President Bush accuse Congress of “wasteful Washington spending” while at the same time threatening to veto a Medicare bill which could trim billion dollar subsidies to the insurance industry might make us chuckle...if only it weren’t so harmful to seniors.

According to Congressional Quarterly today:
“One of the key demands (by the administration) is that the legislation use only cuts to Medicare providers,like hospitals or nursing homes, to pay for one of the bill’s most expensive provisions,instead of using money that currently goes to health insurance companies paid to run private Medicare plans, known as Medicare Advantage.”

In other words, this administration says it’s O.K. to cut providers directly serving vulnerable seniors but don’t even consider touching a penny of the estimated $149 billion in overpayments currently going to insurance companies. Overpayments that also cut two years from Medicare’s solvency, by the way.

Let’s be clear about this, these overpayments are subsidies above and beyond what is needed to provide coverage currently being offered in traditional Medicare. In fact, the government pays an average of 12 percent more to cover a beneficiary in a private Medicare Advantage plan than it would cost to cover that same beneficiary in traditional Medicare. All of this, while the insurance industry reaps record profits thanks to this new Medicare market created by the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act.

Once again, this administration’s priorities are clear. Protect insurers above all else. Clearly “wasteful government spending” doesn’t apply to government giveaways to political friends and allies in the insurance industry.