On a quiet day, we have a chance to reflect on how important Medicare is to so many people . . . and on the problems non-working Americans once had with health insurance and what it could be like for them once again. As noted at the end of my blog for May 29, President Kennedy's historic Medicare speech puts much in perspective for us today. An employer-based health insurance system -- as we have in the United States -- has significant limitations for non-workers.
In 1965, many retired Americans could not afford or even qualify for health insurance. After working their whole lives, they were left with no coverage at all. Medicare allows them to pay toward their future health care via a payroll tax to ensure basic coverage later. Because Medicare does not cover all needed care, it does not pay all health care costs. And Medicare does require premiums and deductibles. If they can afford it, retirees can buy a Medicare supplement policy -- Medigap -- to fill in some of Medicare's gaps. Medicare is not a free ride for anyone.
"Vouchercare" -- one name being applied to the Republican proposal to replace Medicare -- has significant limitations, partly because it continues a philosophy which relies on government subsidies. Subsidies not for taxpayers or workers but for business (in this case, the insurance industry). The amount of money allowed for vouchers for retirees to buy private insurance would gradually increase over time, but that amount is not intended to keep pace with the increasing costs of health care.
While an insurance industry oriented "program" seems market-based in its approach, profit/ financial gain has never been a good model for explaining the workings of the health care economy. In the future, would the health insurance industry become strong enough to command that their subsidies increase? Surely, they would try, perpetuating the cycle where business continually influences Congress to pass favorable legislation.
Medicare is an excellent example of the key questions we face as Americans; questions which both originate with and challenge our core values. Questions which, by their fundamental tension, test us as individuals and as a People. We admire individuality and we pride ourselves on lending a helping hand and we cherish fairness.
Medicare highlights the strongly-felt differences between Republicans/ Conservatives and Democrats/ Liberals. In part, Medicare public policy asks: "Can we devise a health insurance system which maximizes both the common good and the choices of individuals? Can that system ensure balanced responsibility on the parts of both individuals and the larger community (i.e., government)? Can that system protect individual rights without government intrusion?"
"President Obama has dispatched Vice President Biden, the number two man in the government and nominally the head of the U.S. Senate, to handle negotiations with the GOP over deficit reduction. Today, Republicans said that shows Obama doesn't really care much about getting the economy back on track." They say: Sending Biden To Negotiate Economy = ‘Phoning It In.’
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has initiated an online petition to Support Medicare, and Stand Up to Senate Republicans. They are pushing their message: "Republicans in the Senate just voted to END Medicare, attempting to tear the social contract we’ve promised our seniors right down the middle. And they aren’t backing down. Now, GOP leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans won’t agree to raise the debt ceiling -- a move necessary to prevent economic catastrophe -- unless Medicare is completely privatized."
"Rep. Paul Ryan's budget has become a litmus test for any Republican considering a White House run, but now even non-candidates like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels are weighing in on the budget chairman's proposed plan. 'Congressman Ryan's made tremendous contribution and nobody should criticize his plan unless they've something of similar dimension of their own to offer up,' Daniels said in an interview with CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger that is to air Tuesday night on 'In the Arena.'"
By the Way --