I’ve been watching the debate on health care reform for the past five days, and it is amazing how much time and effort the Republican party has dedicated to defending massive government waste and huge corporate giveaways. A vast majority of their floor time has been devoted to speaking in defense of a the Medicare Advantage program. They offered not one, but two, motions to recommit to save this wasteful program.

Medicare Advantage is a network of private plans that the government pays to provide Medicare-eligible seniors with health insurance instead of covering them with traditional Medicare. As the result of a broken payment formula (put in place by the Republicans), the government overpays these private insurance companies by roughly 12%, according to the CBO. Over the next decade, that will be around $150 billion in tax payer money wasted on this giveaway to private insurance companies. All that the health care reform bill would do is to give these private Medicare Advantage plans the same amount of money per enrollee as traditional Medicare would have spent on them. It would create a level playing field between Medicare and Medicare Advantage spending. There is no honest debate about whether Medicare Advantage is a huge coporate giveway. Every expert acknowledges that this is a massive example of government waste.

The Republicans quite nearly sole defense of this incredibly wasteful government program is that the private insurance companies are getting so much extra money from the government, that a some of these private plans spend a small fraction of these overpayments on extra benefits. They claim to be defending these extra benefits. Republicans are not offering amendments to add more guaranteed benefits to Medicare or the Medicare Advantage program. They are not trying to mandate that Medicare provides more coverage. Senate Republicans are only defending this huge corporate boondoggle because some small part of this wasted money might trickle down to seniors (or at least that is what they are claiming).

This is Reagan-style trickle down economics taken to its insane extreme. This is one of the most glaring examples of fiscal conservative hypocrisy I have witnessed. For five whole days, Republicans have defended the profits of private insurance companies at the expense of taxpayers. It is kleptocracy in its fullest form on the Senate floor. I’m not watching a debate on health care reform, I’m watching the death of the idea that there can be sensible bi-partisan legislating for the benefit of the American people in the United States Senate.

The only thing that makes this sadder is that some Democrats trying to undo this huge corporate giveaway to private insurance companies are also fighting to kill the public option. The public option is the only tool that we have to ensure that the new, subsidized exchange does not turn into a nearly indentical but even larger corporate giveaway to the same health insurance corporations.

Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at http://pendinghorizon.com

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