On January 1st, while most revelers were still sound asleep and certainly not reading their morning newspapers, a story written by a staff reporter named Samuel Goldsmith was published on page 14 of the New York Daily News. The title alone was enough to have set off alarm bells: “Lowering ‘boom’ on Medicare,” with the subtitle “7,000 new recipients every day.” A story BIG enough to have been published on the front page Monday — when it would have received wide readership and picked up by other media and news services — this piece, I’m sure, was seen by very few, a throw-away story during a quiet news cycle.
The growth of Medicare will become a major issue in the 112th Congress, and it is critical that accurate information be provided to the public as we ponder its future, as well as the futures of our other cherished safety net programs. The essence of the Daily News story was that baby boomers born in 1946 are now turning 65 and are entering Medicare at a rate of 7,000 per day, which will expand the ranks of this program by over 2.5 million this year alone. In 2008, the cost of Medicare was $500 billion, a figure which is expected to double by 2030, when more than 70 million will have turned 65.
While the “Chicken Little” Conservatives’ shrieking alarms over Medicare’s immediate solvency are overblown — in truth, it will remain secure until 2029, a fact the article did not mention — the Federal government must address the added strain all of these new enrollees and future enrollees will place on this program. Congress must also consider how to raise sufficient revenue to address the deficit and the funding requirements of Medicare, along with other national needs. The fact of the matter is, Washington has anticipated these new Medicare recipients however for some years, with their hordes of actuaries, policy wonks and legislative aides calibrating its cost and numbers and how to deal with them.
The good news is that most of these new 65 year old enrollees will likely not require much of an increase in services until they reach their 70′s and 80′s, when they will need more extensive, long-term and costly medical care, according to John Rother, Vice President for policy at AARP. “We have time to make adjustments,” noted Rother. These boomers have paid into the system for their entire careers and deserve assurances that this program — along with Social Security — will be there for them when they retire.
We know the priorities of the now defunct Deficit Commission, led by “deficit hawks” Simpson and Bowles, will be raised anew in the 112th Congress, as the Republicans and their Tea Party flunkies go after Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Almost daily we see news reports that the states are in dire financial straights, with many even heading towards insolvency. This will no doubt lead to an even more intense focus on Medicaid and what real or imagined effect “Obamacare” is having on state budgets, and we should expect a fierce battle to be waged as Republicans try to cut Medicare benefits and raise the age of Social Security eligibility. Are even more drastic proposals lurking on the horizon?
The Dems should make it clear now that they will stand up for these programs and oppose any efforts to weaken them, as they represent the great core Progressive values that Dems and our President should be defending without a second thought. Force the Tea Party loons and the rest of the Republicans to define themselves and their priorities early in this new Congress by making them declare openly their fundamental opposition to these safety net programs. Protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will bolster the image of a compassionate Democratic party, the Peoples’ party, and will place in sharp contrast the difference between Dems and Republicans.
The Conservatives plan to start their reign of austerity by launching a repeal of Obamacare before the State of The Union Address later this month. The President can certainly use this to rev up his base, if he decides to be the populist, People-centric President he promised to be in 2008. Our President must show some spine on these issues and not be afraid to use his veto pen. These are the battles worth waging.