Congress is targeting the health and financial well-being of America’s seniors by making yet another attempt to privatize Medicare. Today the House Budget Committee is marking up the GOP’s FY 2018 budget resolution, which includes Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Medicare premium support” scheme – an innocuous name for turning time-tested senior health care coverage into “Coupon-Care.” The House budget blueprint slashes nearly $500 billion from Medicare over ten years and raises the Medicare eligibility age to 67 – along with gutting Medicaid and other social safety net programs for needy seniors.
National Committee President Max Richtman says that converting Medicare into a voucher program is an existential threat to the program itself. “Over time, giving seniors vouchers to purchase health insurance would dramatically increase their out of pocket costs since the fixed amount of the voucher is unlikely to keep up with the rising costs of health care,” says Richtman. “And, as healthier seniors choose less costly private plans, sicker and poorer seniors would remain in traditional Medicare, leading to untenable costs, diminished coverage, and an eventual demise of traditional Medicare, plain and simple. Of course, raising the eligibility age to 67 – as the House spending plan also proposes – is in itself a drastic benefit cut.”
Undermining Medicare has been a long-held dream of fiscal conservatives. Their “premium support” proposal is a thinly veiled scheme to allow traditional Medicare to “wither on the vine,” as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once put it.
Privatization is being sold as “improving customer choice,” but based on the way current Medicare Advantage plans work, private insurance will continue to offer fewer choices of doctors than traditional Medicare does. If traditional Medicare is allowed to shrink and collapse, true choice will disappear, too.
“Weakening Medicare is a politically perilous path for Republicans,” says Richtman. “Recent polling indicates that large majorities of Americans across party lines prefer that Medicare be kept the way it is, not to mention that President Trump repeatedly promised to protect the program during the 2016 campaign.”
Meanwhile, the National Committee strongly condemns other priorities of the 2018 budget resolution. The marked-up House spending plan will likely include:
*Painful cuts to Medicaid, which seniors depend on for long-term care services and supports.
*Reaffirmation of a House rule that puts 11 million Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries at risk of a 7% benefit cut in 2028.
*Caps on non-defense spending that will likely lead to devastating cuts to Older Americans Act programs and the Social Security Administration (SSA) operating budget.
*Reductions to SSI (Supplemental Security Insurance), which provides cash assistance to low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
The savings from these devastating cuts will likely go to tax breaks for the wealthy. Last year’s House Republican tax plan gave 99.6% of its benefits to the top one-percent of earners, with virtually nothing for middle and low income Americans.
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Walter Gottlieb 202-216-8414