A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Will seniors be discarded with Medicare ‘reforms’?

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Dec. 8, 9 or 10, 2016

More than 50 million Americans – almost 2 million in Illinois – could be affected by the Trump Triumvirate of Seema Verma and Republican U.S. Reps. Tom Price and Paul Ryan.

Despite very few news stories about the possibilities, seniors enrolled in Medicare should be aware of threatened changes by this trio.

Verma, a health-care consultant who helped Indiana Gov. (and Vice President-Elect) Mike Pence with Medicaid reform there, is Trump’s pic to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). It’s part of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), which oversees Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Price, a Georgia Tea Party Congressman, House Budget chair and foe of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and CHIP, was tapped to head up HHS.

Former Budget chair Ryan is the House Speaker who for years has proposed privatizing Medicare, adding requirements to Medicaid, and repealing outright the ACA.

Now, Medicare is being targeted.

Nevertheless, press coverage of the notion of drastically changing the popular, 50-year-old Medicare program has been almost nonexistent since the election. A content analysis by Media Matters found ZERO stories on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC Nov. 10-27.(PBS had one, and MSNBC had six over those two-and-a-half weeks.)

Again, according to CMS’ data, some 50.5 million Americans were enrolled in Medicare last year – 15.7 percent of the population; in Illinois, 1.9 million of us are enrolled in the program – 14.8 percent of the state. So there’s an audience for this news, as well as a compelling public interest.

Ryan, a trickle-down, supply-side-economic deficit hawk, falsely said, “Because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke,” which might be a divide-and-conquer gimmick but it’s still a lie, according to fact-checkers. (“Obamacare” – the ACA – actually helped Medicare’s solvency, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed in July.

Nevertheless, Ryan’s website’s rosy-yet-vague “Better Way” agenda concedes that phasing out Medicare could loom – which he confirmed Dec. 1, when he discussed its “major overhaul.” The form of that overhaul is to use income-adjusted vouchers supposedly to help seniors pay their health insurance premiums, a sort of “means-testing” that in its current concept has no provision for the vouchers to keep up with inflation, meaning that the assistance would increasingly be worth less and the premiums would eventually take up more of seniors’ limited incomes.

Also, there would be no guarantee of health-care coverage.

Bottom line: They’d turn over Medicare to the private insurance industry – the reason for most complaints about the ACA’s recent premium increases.

Medicare as a universal insurance program will die. Costs will transfer to individual seniors so the cuts in government spending favored by Ryan and Price could be used to further reduce taxes on their wealthy benefactors.

This scheme didn’t emerge from nowhere. Ryan’s been advocating such changes for years and the Kaiser Family Foundation his summer reported that conservative legislators would probably seek transforming Medicare “into a system of premium supports … a significant change from the current system” paying health-care providers directly.

Medicare has different parts: A covers hospitalization; B physicians; C permits private insurers to provide supplemental coverage; and D subsidizes some prescriptions (although it’s limited, thanks to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry).

It is not a gift. Americans pay for it through payroll taxes. It’s an earned benefit.

Meanwhile, contradicting campaign promises to “protect Medicare,” President-Elect Trump on his transition website mentions the desire to “modernize Medicare so that it will be ready for the challenges with the coming retirement of the baby boom generation – and beyond.”

Look out.

Since few seniors are disappointed with Medicare, Democrats have noticed the political danger for the GOP. U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the incoming Senate Minority Leader, said Republicans are “plotting a war on seniors” and added, “We’re going to fight tooth and nail any attempt to privatize, ‘voucher-ize’ or any other-ize you can think of when it comes to Medicare. To Republicans considering going down this path, my advice is simple: Turn back.”

So: Why haven’t the news media noticed?

After all, since Republicans now control the House, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court, the plan could actually happen. This isn’t progressives crying, “Wolf!”

And it’s an important political story. As Republicans and Democrats alike have warned about various actions, there’s the “Pottery Barn” rule: “You break it, you own it.”

[PICTURED: Photo from]

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