Friday, March 25, 2005

March 25-27

They Kill Programs, Don't They?

Those who disagree with the Bush administration on various issues too often fail to look at the big picture. They need to stand back sometimes and ask themselves, “Are these various issues really connected?” And, “If the Bush folk were to get their way on all these issues, what kind of America would emerge?

Finally, “And is that the kind of America they are consciously working to create?"

Before I get on a roll I want to remind everyone that, if I have learned anything from too many years of reporting on Washington, it is this: no one in government is either smart enough or skilled enough to pull off a well-oiled conspiracy. To immediately assume that such a caper is afoot gives those in government far too much credit.

So, I can’t tell you, or myself, that the clear implication their actions noted below represent a carefully thought out plan or just stupidity. What I can say with some degree of certainty though, is where these policies are taking us.

Social Security “reform,” Medicare, Medicaid – Let’s take them one at a time.

Yesterday two independent trustees overseeing Social Security and Medicare broke with the Bush administration's trustees yesterday, saying Medicare's financial problems far exceed Social Security's and in urgent need of attention.

This news comes on the heels of the Bush administration’s stated desire to cut Medicaid reimbursements to states by $60 billion, leaving states with no alternative but to cut medical services to the poor.

All this in country where, at any point in time, upwards of 45 million citizens cannot get or afford private health insurance. While President Bush works himself into a rhetorical lather over Social Security he has not uttered a word about the much larger and much more imminent crisis in Medicare.

My wife’s 95-year old mother has been in an out of the hospital recently. If it were not for Medicare she and the rest of our family would be broke by now. No ownership society for her, for us, or for our kids. And, with the new bankruptcy laws pushed through at the behest of the credit card industry, we would not even be able to find refuge in bankruptcy.

My mother-in-law is lucky. She can afford the $2500 year premium for supplemental medical insurance that pays whatever Medicare does not cover. But millions of old folks out there rely entirely on Medicare. She -- a millions like her -- would be in the poorhouse without Medicare....

Yet Bush only wants to talk about Social Security. Why?

I am left only to guess. So, here’s my best guess. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid -- Republicans have never liked any of these programs. To them they are socialist tumors growing within our capitalist body. They would like to end all of them and let the chips fall where they will within the private sector. All these services, they believe, could be more efficiently provided by the private sector. And, what about those human needs where there is no money to be made? Well, conservatives says, that’s where “faith-based” charities come in.

That’s what they believe. But, first they have wean us off these three commie programs. Just pulling the plug on them would make them look like ogres. So, they need to slip each one a poison pill under the guise of a cure.

Social Security is the healthiest of the three and able to survive well into the next century if nothing is done. But, if a hunk of the money needed to keep Social Security solvent could be diverted into private accounts the program’s demise can be hastened considerably. Besides, once small private accounts are approved it would be that much easier to raise the amount diverted in the years ahead until the Social Security Trust Fund looked like Ken Lay were it’s CFO. All that would be left then would be to put the program out of its misery.

So far, so good. Now what about Medicaid? Simple. Tighten up on reimbursements to the states. Under Medicaid the states pay half and the feds pay half. But, as fewer and fewer people can afford private health insurance, especially in poorer parts of the country, states have turned increasingly to Medicaid to cover the medical needs of its poor and working poor. In the process they have found increasingly creative ways of getting the feds to pay more of those bills. By tightening those loopholes the Bush administration would, in effect, remove the feeding tube to those state programs.

Killing Medicare requires only one thing… just ignore it. The program is already so close to financial collapse that all they need to do is nothing and it will go broke near the end of the next decade. RIP.

So, Bush’s big
push for Social Security private accounts actually serves two purposes. The first I noted above, to starve the trust fund by diverting money into private accounts. The second is diversionary. While everyone else is spinning their wheels trying to kill Bush’s private accounts idea, no one has been paying attention to Medicare’s looming crisis.

If all three of these plans succeeds the next generation of Americans will live in a very different country than we have.

Conservatives honestly believe that anything government can do the private sector can do better, cheaper and more efficiently. In many cases that’s true. But not a shred of proof exists this is true when it comes to the things that don’t have a built in profit margin.

For those kinds of human needs, conservatives assure us, people of faith will step forward and care for our loved ones and us if we cannot pay for that care. That’s our part of the “faith-based” initiative – we just have to have faith some religious charity will step up to the plate for us if we every need it.

I have this vision of nearly dying and then awakening in clinic someplace and, there at the foot of my bed is Rev. Moon to assure me that he not only saved my life, but found me a new wife to boot.

Then there's the vision of four men in saffron robes standing over me with burning incense and chanting “hari, hari kristna, kristna, kristna…

What you laughing at sucker? Get on the phone or email and insist your member of Congress force Bush to fix Medicare and Medicaid right now.

Or else one of those scenarios may become your personal nightmare twenty years from now if you get sick and the hospital admittance clerk glares down on you asking, “and what’s in your wallet?”

By Stephen Pizzo
Raconteur at Large

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