A Sickening Plan To Fix Healthcare

By Gus Tyler

Published February 21, 2003, issue of February 21, 2003.
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Two historic programs to provide medical care to senior citizens and to people who are in need of medical attention but cannot afford it are presently under fire. If the White House has its way, both these programs will be badly crippled. Here’s how:

The attack on Medicare is cynically presented as a benefit. It is Bush’s response to the mounting demand that the present social security program be expanded to provide a prescription drug benefit. The reason is painfully apparent. Millions of seniors cannot afford to buy the drugs they need to relieve unbearable pain or simply to stay alive.

The president wants to meet this need by offering an option to retirees. If you are a retiree and would like to get drugs at a reasonable rate, all you have to do is take out a drug benefit program with an insurance company. But — a big “but” — you will have to withdraw from the Social Security system as a whole. This means that, if the retiree takes the option, he or she will get no coverage for doctor or hospital bills.

Whether the president will stick with his sickening suggestion is not certain because he has drawn much flak from leading Republicans in Congress. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, which writes Medicare legislation, tried to quash the idea before the ink on the plan dries.” But whatever ultimately happens, the president’s intent is to use retiree need for prescription drugs as a way to weaken, and ultimately destroy, Medicare.

The charge against Medicaid has been led by the President’s brother, Jeb Bush, governor of Florida. He and two other governors have informed the White House that they cannot fulfill their obligations under Medicaid because they do not have the money.

Under existing law, every state is obliged to provide coverage for designated classes of recipients, as determined by the federal government.

The White House had two options in responding to these well-founded complaints. It could have increased the sums that go to the states to help them carry on. But Uncle Sam, speaking through the mouth of President Bush, chose another “solution.” The governors have been informed that they may reduce benefits at their discretion. The states would not have absolute discretion. They could not reduce benefits for welfare recipients, poor children and a few other groups. But the state could impose higher co-payments for some recipients, or reduce benefits, or disallow benefits for certain parts of the state, etc.

In both instances — Medicare and Medicaid — the rationale for the cutbacks on these vital programs is Washington’s need to pinch pennies at this moment of deep and ever deeper indebtedness. In large part, this debt is due to the billions and, soon, trillions of dollars that Uncle Sam, under the Bush push, has given to a top 1% or 2% of American families with annual salaries counted in the millions — if not billions. The “gift” comes in the form of tax cuts for the richest of the rich. Apparently, the White House manages to finance these gargantuan giveaways to the richest but cannot find the necessary funds to provide prescription drugs to those on Medicare or continue the traditional payments to those on Medicaid. All of which makes Dubya a Robin Hood in reverse: Instead of taking from the rich to give to the poor he takes from the poor to give to the rich.

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