For three full days, the Senate debate over health care reform has been loaded with misinformation and scare tactics targeted directly at seniors.  Among the most recent outrageous claims are that seniors will die sooner  if health care reform passes and health care reform will cut Medicare benefits.  Both are simply not true.  Today we joined Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Tom Harkin (IA) at a news conference offering the truth about health care reform and it’s impact on Medicare.  We also announced our support for an amendment introduced by Senator Bennet today, which expressly prohibits any reductions in guaranteed Medicare benefits and makes sure all savings are reinvested back into Medicare.   You can watch Barbara’s full remarks here:    We’ve said it before but clearly it must be said again...and again...and again.

 “Don’t Touch Medicare” may sound like a good slogan but it’s a fatal strategy for the program. 

Here’s why:
  •  Benefits cuts  are not included in health care reform legislation being debated but that’s exactly what beneficiaries will ultimately face if we do nothing.  The status quo isn’t sustainable and failure to pass health care reform is not an option for seniors who rely on Medicare. Without reform, neither seniors nor the government will be able to afford the program and Medicare will be targeted with unprecedented benefit cuts, higher premiums, and growing out-of-pocket costs.  
  • If health care costs continue to grow unchecked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)   predicts, total spending on health care would rise from 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2007 to 49 percent in 2082. Federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid would rise from 4 percent of GDP in 19 percent in 2082.  Benefits cuts are NOT proposed in the House reform legislation; however, without health care reform, it is inevitable that Medicare and Medicaid will face deep cuts and benefit cuts for seniors will be on the table then.  Arbitrarily cutting Medicare without addressing system wide health care reform is not a hypothetical financial exercise.  It would have real impacts on real people, most of whom have nowhere else to go for coverage and limited options for increasing their resources.  
  • The Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which pays for Medicare Part A, is projected to be exhausted by 2017.  Without reform, seniors will bear an increasing burden of higher out-of-pocket costs—costs which already consume about one-quarter of the average senior’s Social Security benefit.  Without reform, that amount will continue to grow far beyond the average beneficiaries ability to keep up. The Part D doughnut hole alone is projected to double with in the next decade.  
Consider this: Health care reform’s most vocal opponents in Congress have also been philosophically opposed to the existence of social safety net programs like Medicare in the first place. Media Matters reports Senators who are leading the current charge to prevent reforms in Medicare have actually supported $1.57 billion in Medicare cuts in the past—and much of those were direct cuts in benefits. Given the current health care crisis in America, health care opponents’    strategy of “Don’t Touch Medicare” will ultimately achieve the same goal proposed by Medicare’s opponents back in the 1990’s to let Medicare “whither on the vine”.