Nelson's Medicare Cuts Hurt Seniors
By Bob Adams
Senator Bill Nelson's great betrayal of Florida seniors on Medicare would leave even father of the thesaurus Peter Roget at a loss for words. The major source of funding for President Obama's healthcare plan, senior health care is slashed nearly one-half a trillion dollars.
A staggering blow to a program Medicare trustees say will be bankrupt by 2017, commonsense alone says the $470.7 billion in Medicare cuts approved by Senate Democrats will inevitably impact seniors' access to quality care.
What's more, none of the cuts will be used to save Medicare, reports the Congressional Budget Office.
To put the magnitude of these Medicare cuts into perspective, the Senate cuts represent the financial equivalent of completely eliminating an entire year's worth of health care funding for seniors and disabled Americans, but spread out over ten years.
The cuts are shocking in their audacity, breathtaking in their scope.
Senator Nelson, in an internet "Twitter" sent after casting his deciding vote, disagreed: "Senate just passed healthcare with my vote. Not a perfect bill but good."
Nonetheless in a recent report, Rick Foster, the federal government's chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, warned the Senate proposal to cut payments to hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers might lead to "jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries." In fact, many institutions may stop taking Medicare patients.
Senator Nelson, understandably, prefers not to use such divisive words as "cut," "slash," or "reduction" to describe what is being done to Medicare by Senate Democrats, but rather a more noble word like "savings."
After all, who could possibly be opposed to savings?
But when was the last time government "saved" anything, and hasn't government itself become the very definition of "waste, fraud and abuse"?
According to the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "adjusted for inflation, Medicare spending per beneficiary under the legislation would increase at an average annual rate of less than 2 percent during the next two decades-- about half of the roughly 4 percent annual growth rate of the past two decades."
But the CBO continues: "It is unclear whether such a reduction in the growth rate could be achieved, and if so, whether it would be accomplished through greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care or would reduce access to care or diminish the quality of care."
One item that might catch "the apple of the eye" for seniors is a plan to create new government insurance for home and community-based long-term care, known as The CLASS Act, short for Community Living Services and Support.
But the program is being used as little more than an accounting gimmick to create a $60 billion balance sheet asset to fund the President's overall health plan. People would pay a premium in exchange for the opportunity to receive program benefits after being enrolled for at least five years.
The design of the program has been roundly criticized by many, including the Congressional Budget Office, the American Academy of Actuaries, and several Democrat Senators. In fact, Democrat Senator Kent Conrad (ND) called The CLASS Act "a 'Ponzi Scheme' of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of."
Yet every Democrat Senator, including Senator Nelson, still voted for The CLASS Act as part of the overall Senate health care bill.
Moreover, Senator Nelson's vote for health care reform includes a $149 billion tax increase on private health insurance plans, $43 billion in new taxes and fines on individuals and businesses, $87 billion Medicare payroll tax increase, and $101 billion tax increase on branded drugs, health insurance providers, and certain medical devices (like pacemakers and motorized wheelchairs).
While some may feel big tax hikes are the "just desserts" for an insurance industry whose standard protocol for sick patients so often begins with "No," insurers will pass these taxes on to their customers with higher premiums and fewer benefits, as they always do.
An old saying goes that you can determine the compassion of a society by its compassion for elderly citizens. Americans, including Floridians, have that compassion. It's just the politicians who are out to lunch.
Maybe JFK was right after all: "Sometimes party loyalty asks too much." But Senator Nelson, you're no Jack Kennedy.
(Bob Adams is executive director for the League of American Voters.)
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