The Washington Post recently hailed the latest congressional scheme to "heal" Medicare, known by the names of its sponsoring lawmakers as the Ryan-Wyden plan.
Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a runner up for Time's Person of the Year, who lost to The Protestor, is the lead Republican sponsor. Fresh from a bruising political pummeling from his first attempt to gut Medicare by replacing it with the voucher system, Ryan found a second wind with the help of Oregon Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden.
The Washington Post loved the whole bipartisan thing. "In the maelstrom of dysfunction and partisanship better known as the 112th Congress it is always surprising and gratifying when lawmakers from opposing parties manage to work together."
Really? Even if that "working together" means throwing aging parents and grandparents, neighbors and co-workers to the wolves - the for-profit market forces?
Whether it's some kind of high stakes election tactical maneuver on the Democrats part to win independents, or just good old-fashioned two parties of the 1%, it doesn't really matter. Because the result will be the same - Medicare will be dead.
Medicare, from its inception, has been under attack by the private, profit-hungry insurance industry and the political far right who believe no government (for the people) is good government (for the corporations - the "other" people). Politicians bemoan the rising cost of health care as a budget buster. So instead of cracking down on the source of rising costs - a for-profit health care system - they go after whatever public system is in place.
The Ryan-Wyden scheme introduces vouchers and "competition" between Medicare and for-profit insurance companies. Been there. Done that. Remember Medicare Advantage? Medicare recipients can get their coverage through private plans with Medicare Advantage. Cost savings? Nope. Medicare Advantage costs were 13 percent higher than regular Medicare.
According to The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, the debate is not "simply" over whether public sector insurance is more efficient than private sector, or whether "competition" lowers costs versus regulations. Cohn says it goes to "whether our society should make a solemn guarantee to seniors" that "they will get a comprehensive set of health benefits that will be within their financial means."
In other words, will the richest country in the world, one that spends hundreds of billions on war and tax loopholes for billionaires, figure out how to guarantee some modicum of affordable health care benefits? Or will this tremendous nation of ours turn its back on the aging and ask, as Ebenezer Scrooge did, "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
The Obama administration was right to come out against the Ryan-Wyden plan, saying it would "end Medicare as we know it for millions of seniors."
Those who make a fetish of bipartisanship in order to get something done should know that it would not stop the free fall of public opinion towards Congress. As a sarcastic note, the Washington Post recently published a graph showing that communism in the United States was more popular than Congress.
While the esteemed editors of the Post were obviously lampooning both Communists and Congress, maybe there is something to reflect on. Maybe the idea of sharing resources for the benefit of the whole population is more popular than the dysfunction of lawmakers trying to put the onus of the Wall Street-caused financial crisis on the backs of seniors and the most vulnerable.
You really want to lower health care costs? Provide a Medicare for All option! Open it up for people of all ages to buy into. That's real competition that would lower costs. And, if private insurance companies can't compete, so be it.
Photo: Ohioans celebrate health care programs Medicare and Medicaid. (Progress Ohio/CC)