Americans deserve a serious debate about the future of Medicare.  They deserve more than political talking points from candidates using poll-tested language saying “save” when they mean slash and “protect” when they mean privatize.  Drawing clear distinctions between candidates who support turning Medicare into a voucher program, through premium support schemes, and those who support other types of Medicare reform is the opposite of deceptive rhetoric – it’s the heart of honest political debate and truth-telling that North Carolina seniors deserve from Senator Richard Burr and Democratic candidate Deborah Ross.

Providing North Carolinians with details about Senator Burr’s plan for Medicare included in his Seniors’ Choice Act and his 0% voting record on seniors’ issues, as scored by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, isn’t “alarmist rhetoric” as his healthcare industry supporters claim. However, seniors certainly are alarmed once they understand Senator Burr’s plan would raise Medicare’s eligibility age, seniors’ premiums, and turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Privatization supporters, like Senator Burr, believe that “CouponCare” will save the government money by giving seniors a set dollar amount each year to go out and shop for private health insurance. How? Because the purchasing power of that government coupon won’t keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance and seniors will pay the difference as the federal government shifts costs directly to beneficiaries.  Rather than tackle the rising costs of America’s health care system-wide, privatizers instead want to move retirees into the private insurance market, complete with all the risks and costs that gave rise to the creation of the Medicare program in the first place. While seniors may be willing to clip coupons for their groceries they certainly don’t want to shop for their health insurance that way.

What’s truly deceptive are industry claims that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says Medicare privatization schemes would save beneficiaries money.  In truth, CBO has made it clear that beneficiary premiums and out-of-pocket costs will be heavily dependent on many factors including overall design, private insurers’ response to a new payment policy and the new role for traditional Medicare.  Under the various voucher scenarios CBO investigated, beneficiary out of pocket costs decreased in only one.  Even then, if premiums went down in the aggregate, some beneficiaries paid higher premiums and others would pay less.  Under every scenario, seniors’ costs would be determined by where they live, availability of plans and which plan they choose.  To maximize profits, private insurers in Medicare will continue to try to enroll younger, healthier, low-cost enrollees leaving sicker, older and higher-cost seniors in traditional Medicare, creating what is known in the healthcare industry as a “death spiral” making traditional Medicare too costly to sustain.  That is the privatizers’ ultimate goal – to destroy traditional Medicare’s guaranteed government health benefit, sending America’s seniors back into the uncertainties of the private insurance marketplace.

It’s no wonder the vast majority of Americans (70%) oppose Medicare voucher plans like Senator Burr’s and why some candidates (and their corporate backers) are unwilling to talk on the campaign trail about the real-life impact of privatization proposals for seniors.

Max Richtman
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare