July 2011

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Deception on Medicare

Powerful House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has been busy the past few months touting his budget bill, which would privatize Medicare for a growing population of retirees. But don't fret, the Wisconsin congressman says, as the changes won't affect anyone inching closer to retirement. "We propose to not change the benefits for people above the age of 55," Ryan said last month, allowing for ample time to restructure the system to make health care affordable and available for the next wave of retirees. Sound good?

Not so, says a recent analysis in National Journal magazine. An article in last month's issue reports that Ryan's budget, which would scrap the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, threatens to open a chasm in the Medicare coverage system—another version of the dreaded "doughnut hole." Remember that? When President George W. Bush and his congressional allies enacted changes in Medicare's prescription drug system, they created a lapse in coverage that forced seniors to pay all of their prescription drug costs after yearly totals top out at over $2,800 and not get additional federal subsidies until the amount reaches $4,550.

Ryan's proposals would put nearly 4 million seniors in this Bermuda Triangle of health care coverage who would immediately find themselves staring at potentially skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs.

Ryan's plan would force seniors into paying more for health care with underfunded vouchers, putting retirees at the mercy of private insurance companies, which are free to raise rates and block coverage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the Republican budget would vault seniors' average health care spending over the next decade to greater than $12,000 annually, more than double the current rate.

Everyone knows health care is expensive, and the costs are growing. But Ryan and his allies are trying to balance a budget on the backs of some of the most vulnerable Americans while offering billions in tax breaks to large corporations and the already wealthy.

Is this how we take care of our seniors? Should the elderly have to work at the age of 70 just to pay for increasingly expensive prescriptions drugs and procedures that are the inevitable result of growing older?

Even glib politicians like Paul Ryan don't have the answers for those questions.


Also: Hill: Real Mechanics Needed to Fix Economy

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer