President Obama has angrily denounced those who warned that Democratic health care proposals will reduce Medicare benefits. "Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate," he said during the course of his Sept. 9 address to Congress. After all, he promised that if people liked their Medicare and Medicaid coverage, "nothing" will "change the coverage or the doctor you have" and "the only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud." That simply is not the case.
Democratic health care bills in both houses of Congress clearly contradict the president's promises. House Republicans asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services how the health care bill approved by the lower chamber on Nov. 7 would impact government health care programs. Would slashing $500 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, as proposed in the House bill, only eliminate waste? Half of the health care bill is purported to be paid by these yet-to-be-seen cuts. An even more basic question is whether such a large cut really could "strengthen Medicare" at all, as White House spokesman Linda Douglass declared two weekends ago.
It's unfathomable that simply reducing how much Medicare pays doctors and hospitals - payments that are already below cost - could eliminate waste. The waste that is going to be eliminated is not even specified in the bill, but the Democrats merely state that they know it is out there somewhere. One of the proposals to eliminate the Medicare Advantage program will obviously force those currently using it to change their coverage.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is run by the administration and Congress, but on Nov. 21, even the centers couldn't deny the obvious truth: The cuts will be "exacerbating existing access problems" in Medicaid. "It is reasonable to expect that a significant portion of the increased demand for Medicaid would not be realized," the centers reported. After translating this jargon from bureaucratese, the meaning is clear: People will want more medical care than will be available; not everyone will be able to get treatment; and there will have to be rationing. If grandma needs a hip replacement, she will have to wait a few years.
This reality may help explain why both Democrats and Republicans are backing away from the belief that it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage. According to a new Gallup poll, 50 percent of Americans now oppose the government taking on this responsibility. Since 2006, the percentage who support such a government guarantee has fallen by 13 percentage points among Democrats and by 20 percentage points among Republicans.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report also shot down one of the two major motivations behind health care reform: to control health care costs. Similar to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, the centers expect total health care spending to rise significantly, contrary to assurances made by the Obama administration and congressional leaders.
Mr. Obama might lash out at his opponents for criticizing Democratic plans for government health care, but he is the one engaging in "demagoguery and distortion." No matter what the president tries to claim, $500 billion in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid will indeed reduce services rendered to the old and the poor.