- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2003

Rep. Dick Gephardt, whose foundering presidential campaign will likely disintegrate on Jan. 19 if he fails to repeat his 1988 victory in the Iowa caucuses, is no stranger to demagoguery. He mastered the tactic during the 1995 battle to reform Medicare. Indeed, Mr. Gephardt and his Democratic colleagues were so unrelentingly demagogic in their “Medi-scare” campaign that even The Washington Post editorial page found it necessary — not once, but twice — to describe the Democratic Party as a collection of “Medagogues.”

Serving as House majority leader when his party was overwhelmed in 1994 by the Newt Gingrich-led congressional Republican revolution, Mr. Gephardt spent the next eight years presiding as his party withered in the minority wilderness. Now, Mr. Gephardt, who self-servingly dispatched his pro-life credentials like dirty laundry before he launched his first presidential bid, is engaged in a desperate attempt to gain momentum as a Democratic presidential candidate. So, it should surprise nobody that the former House Democratic leader has returned to his demagogic past to scar Howard Dean the way he assaulted congressional Republicans on Medicare eight years ago.

As a physician who actually spent years delivering services to Medicare patients, Mr. Dean has an informed insider’s view of the program. Recently, Mr. Gephardt dredged up some clips from 1995 and asserted that Mr. Dean, who at the time was Vermont governor and chairman of the National Governors Association, supported Republican efforts to reform Medicare and restrain its growth.

The Republican reform plan, as this page noted at the time, would have increased Medicare spending by 54 percent between 1995 ($158 billion) and 2002 ($244 billion). Then-Gov. Dean apparently expressed support for the GOP reform plan; but Democrats, led in part by Mr. Gephardt, relentlessly demagogued the fact that the reformed Medicare program would have spent less over the same period than an unreformed program.

“Howard Dean actually agreed with the Gingrich Republicans,” bellowed Mr. Gephardt on Sept. 12, before an audience of unionized workers, 40 percent of whose household members voted for “Gingrich Republicans” in 1994, according to exit polls. Accusing Mr. Dean of “turning [Medicare] into a wholly managed-care program,” Mr. Gephardt evidently is unaware of the fact that the vast majority of elderly now entering Medicare are moving from “wholly managed-care programs” into Medicare’s notoriously wasteful and widely abused “fee-for-service” program.

How wasteful and abuse-ridden Medicare’s fee-for-service system can be was meticulously documented in a front-page article — “Patients in Florida Lining Up For All That Medicare Covers” — in the New York Times on Sept. 13. In an ironic juxtaposition, the story’s jump appeared on page 9, directly above a story — “Gephardt Attacks Dean on 2 Social Programs” — detailing Mr. Gephardt’s latest foray into demagoguery. Focusing on South Florida, where Medicare spends more per person than almost anywhere else and where mortality rates are actually higher than in lower-spending regions, the article reported that “doctor visits have become a social activity in this place of palm trees and gated retirement communities. Many patients have 8, 10 or 12 specialists and visit one or more of them most days of the week. They bring their spouse and plan their days around their appointments, going out to eat and shopping while they are in the area.” Citing researchers and their studies, the article concluded that south Florida “is a case study of what happens when people are given free rein to have all the medical care they can imagine.”

As a family physician, Mr. Dean has experienced firsthand how easy it would be to waste tens of thousands of dollars in a fruitless effort during the last days of a terminal patient’s life. As Medicare races toward bankruptcy, Mr. Dean’s views surely carry more weight than those of a long-standing health-care demagogue.

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