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Amy Traub

The Quiet Plan to Kill Medicare

President Bush's new health care proposals have so many destructive features it took DMI nine pages to outline them all in our State of the Union rapid response last month. And we were really trying to brief. But it appears that the President didn't even mention all of the harmful plans he has in store for the nation's health care system. Like getting rid of Medicare as we know it.

You read that correctly. The President's proposed 2008 budget includes a plan to do away with Medicare.

Why haven't you heard this before? On his blog, "Beat the Press" economist Dean Baker takes the media to task for failing to report on the plan to phase out one of the nation's most crucial -- and treasured -- public programs even as he cogently explains just how the President aims to drive guaranteed health care for our nation's seniors into the sunset. The plan involves means-testing many Medicare benefits so they won't be available to anyone making over $80,000 a year. That income level isn't indexed to inflation, so over the years the income threshhold will drop in real terms, reducing Medicare to a program for only the poor, then only the very poor... and Medicare is gone as a vital support for all seniors.

Yes, this is the same President who just expanded Medicare with a flawed and yet hugely expensive prescription drug benefit. And it's the same President who just said in his State of the Union that "when it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly." So maybe it's no surprise that he didn't announce his plan to wriggle out of that obligation in the very same speech. And maybe the media figures that the President's plan to gradually eliminate the program more than 40 million seniors rely upon for their health care would never be enacted, or would be repealed or adjusted before it had a chance to fully decimate Medicare. But as Dean Baker points out, under Bush's plan "many middle income elderly people would face the loss of their Medicare subsidy before Social Security faces any funding shortfall" and we've all heard the hue and cry about the 'crisis' facing Social Security.

Contrast the media's (lack of) coverage of the planned phase-out of Medicare with the response to presidential candidate John Edwards' plan for universal health coverage. A look at the headlines suggests the most important thing about Edwards' plan is not that it would cover every American by 2012, or that it builds on the current employer-based system, or even that it would be more affordable for the middle class. Instead headline after headline trumpets the fact that his plan involves a tax increase (really a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year).

Yes, folks, to get health care, you have to pay for it. And if you want to save a lot of money, I suppose that one way to do it is to gradually stop offering public health care to the elderly. But by highlighting the proposed budget savings and tax increases rather than what these numbers mean for the ability of actual people get the medical care they need, the media is doing us all a disservice.

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Posted at 11:59 AM, Feb 06, 2007 in Health Care | Media | Medicare | Politics | State of the Union
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