Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Medicare Un-Affordability, Nothing Doing for 2012, Social Security: Candidates on Parade, Doc Fix

Affording Medicare Not Easy

"Millions of retired Americans are frozen out of the health care system even though they've paid into it all their lives, because most of them rely on Social Security for the bulk of their income and can't afford the 20 percent of every medical bill that Medicare requires them to pay.  These numbers will grow enormously over the next 15 years as the population ages, whatever our economic future.  Fundamental shifts in employment and incomes growing out of what's still being called the Great Recession will likely compound the problem for decades."

"And demographic and other statistics strongly suggest that this is only the beginning of an unavoidable challenge to the idea of what it means to grow old in America, and to what many consider the obligations of government to citizens.  In this pass, the political system seems unable to even concede the facts, much less design a practical response to them."

By the numbers, if you are old in the future America -- regardless of changes that might occur in Medicare and Social Security -- you are going to have a rough time affording medical care.  There's a scary and depressing reality out there which should be discouraging to anyone.  We need to work triply hard to prevent a financial and medical disaster for ourselves, our families, and our friends.

2012 Stalemate

"When last seen in Washington, House Republicans were furious with their own leader, Speaker John Boehner, and angry with their Senate Republican brethren over how the showdown over the Social Security tax cut turned into a year-end political debacle."

"In the coming year, House Republicans remain doubtful about accomplishing anything more than the must-do spending bills and a year-long extension of the Social Security tax cuts, unemployment benefits and a reprieve in the cuts to doctors for Medicare payments.  Congress faces a Feb. 29 deadline to agree on a new extension, no easy task after last year's deep divisions but politically inevitable as lawmakers would be loath to raise taxes in an election year."

Threats to Social Security

"Social Security is a tricky issue in the GOP primary: It's a program of nearly unparalleled popularity, resonates with the seniors most likely to vote, but is also a pure example of government spending and redistribution of wealth, the types of things that have become anathema to a party increasingly tied to its most passionate and extreme wing.  How does a Republican who wants to win both the primary and the general election thread the Social Security needle?"

"Most of the Republican candidates vying for the presidency have proposed at least partially privatizing Social Security.  Others have taken their attack on the old-age and disability insurance program even further, calling it a Ponzi scheme and unconstitutional, though conceding that benefits should be made available for those currently approaching or at retirement age."

This review is based on the work of Strengthen Social Security, which we have featured here before.

Permanent Doc Fix

"One of the items Congress extended for two months in the December payroll tax package is current Medicare payment rates to physicians, averting a steep 27.4 percent cut.  Although a yearlong 'doc fix' is seen as likeliest when lawmakers return to town this week and begin negotiating pay-fors, even that would merely be punting an issue in need of a permanent fix.  Over the last few months there’s been serious talk in Congress of buying out the 'doc fix' issue once and for all with war savings from troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan, estimated at over half a trillion dollars."

"But look closer and you’ll see why House Republicans don’t want to give up this issue: doc fixes are typically funded with health spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, so the issue offers them a rare opportunity to go after Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, two programs they want to tell their 2012 constituents they helped contain."

A "peace dividend."  We've heard of that before.


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