The Medicare Debate
With two months left in the year, it's likely 1995 will be remembered for three things: the Oklahoma City bombing, the trial of what's-his-name, and the year Medicare was destroyed -- or saved.
There is no middle ground in the Medicare debate, according to our Congressional representatives. If made law, the Republican modifications to America's most important health program will drastically change our society, for better or worse.
Instead of writing (yet another) article slogging through the bill, we decided to provide long excerpts of the debate in the House of Representatives by both Republicans and Democrats. But first, some background: the Republican bill cuts Medicare by $270 billion over seven years. The Democrats say this is to finance the $245 billion tax cut promised by Gingrich. The Republicans claim that without these drastic reductions, Medicare will be bankrupt in seven years.
Who's telling the truth? A revealing article can be found in the September 25 edition of The New Yorker, which includes quotes from an eight-page document written in June by Republican advisor and public-relations maven Frank Luntz. "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Communicating Medicare" is a how-to manual explaining how to sandbag debate on the topic.
Lutz warned that older voters would never accept changes in Medicare until they were "convinced the system's going broke," and he wrote that costs were "at the crux of our argument" -- that "if we can't prove that Medicare is going bankrupt, we'll never be able to sell our solutions."
Convieniently, there was just such a prediction that Medicare would be bankrupt in seven years. The forecast was made by the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which had made the exact same prediction nine times in the past 25 years. Last year, they predicted Medicare would go belly-up in the year 2001. For 1995, they bumped it up to 2002.
In these debates, two events are discussed that happened on October 10th and 11th. On the 10th, the American Medical Association (AMA) backed the Republican proposals after House Speaker Gingrich agreed to last-minute changes worth billions of dollars to doctors, including ceilings on malpractice lawsuits. As part of the agreement, there are no limits on what a physician may charge patients under most circumstances.
The very next day, fifteen elderly protesters from the National Council of Senior Citizens disrupted a meeting by the House Commerce Committee. The seniors, several of them in wheelchairs, were arrested and held for two hours.
That evening, Bay Area Democrats Woolsey, Pelosi, and Farr discussed these events and what the Republican bill will mean to America. The next day, five Republicans spoke about the same issues.
On October 18th, the House approved the Republican redesign of Medicare by 231 to 201. Clinton has promised to veto the legislation, and House Speaker Gingrich concedes it is unlikely they have enough votes to overturn a presidential veto.
These excerpts have been slightly edited for readability. A complete copy of both debates can be found in the Congressional Record.