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EDITORIAL: Reform Medicare first

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

President Obama talks a lot about cutting costs and improving service by increasing government's role in health care. But Democratic plans fail to adequately address the federal government's biggest health care problem -- Medicare.

Though touching the entitlement is a hard political sell, any attempt at wholesale health care reform will be pointless without first tackling Medicare's negative impact on patient care and the federal deficit.

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican and a retired cardiac surgeon, told The Washington Times' editorial board yesterday that he gets upset when Democrats cite all health care spending -- not Medicare -- as the destructive force behind the nation's growing federal deficit. "Health care is expensive, but [Mr. Obama] is confusing the private sector with public finance and public programs," Mr. Boustany said. "Congress and the administration are being irresponsible for not acknowledging the dire problems we face with Medicare and what we need to do to fix that program and put it on a sound basis."

The congressman is right on the mark. There has been little substantive discussion about addressing long-term Medicare and Medicaid spending.

The Government Accountability Office estimated that by 2027, the combined costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and net deficit interest will eat up all federal revenue. By 2047, the three entitlements alone will demand every dollar the government collects annually.

Mr. Obama has paid lip service to the issue, telling a June 24 town-hall meeting, "Medicare and Medicaid are the single biggest drivers of the federal deficit and the federal debt by a huge margin." Yet Democratic legislation under consideration doesn't do much to try to control long-term entitlement costs.

Medicare also compromises care by limiting what services physicians can offer their patients. "The way health care is delivered and what is covered and not covered is largely driven by what Medicare decides," Mr. Boustany explained. "And these are very arbitrary decisions made oftentimes by bureaucrats that have no real health care experience."

Before the president and congressional Democrats try to force through a government health care plan, they might want to take a closer look at Medicare. An expansion of the government's role will mean less comprehensive and more expensive care than Americans receive today.