The GOP war on Medicare has seen its share of lost battles during the past weeks. First, it was revealed that under the Ryan plan current seniors would once again be subject to the Medicare doughnut hole. Then a political earthquake hit New York’s district 26 when Democrat Kathy Hochul beat Republican Jane Corwin with a very comfortable margin, signaling voters’ discomfort with the GOP Medicare reform. When Harry Reid brought the “Path to Prosperity” plan to a vote in the U.S. Senate, five Republican senators defected and voted no. And then on May 26, Vermont became the first state to sign a single payer health care bill that would establish universal coverage for all residents. The bill states the need to contain soaring health care costs that are “putting families at economic risk and making it harder for small employers to do business.”

It seems that not all Americans are buying into the Medicare-for-deficit-reduction shake down even when it is cleverly packaged and disguised as “Path to Prosperity” comfort food. Perhaps they remember four consecutive years of budget surpluses (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001). That of course was before passage of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Act of 2001, and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Act of 2003, both supported by Congressman Ryan, who was much less deficit conscious at the time. Of course the sound bites for these acts were ‘growth’ and ‘job creation’, but the facts show that instead of growth and jobs, we had one of the slowest periods of economic expansion and job creation since World War II! The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that the two pieces of tax legislation, and the subsequent legislation that extended them, cost the Treasury $2.8 trillion over the past decade. These facts alone may lead a thinking person to question the Ryanesque deficit platitudes and a plan that yet again proposes cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans from 35% to 25%.

Despite this wave of setbacks, Congresswoman Sandy Adam’s (FL-24) email message to constituents of May 29, is a Ryan plan rallying call stating that the “Path to Prosperity would preserve and protect our Medicare system”, but even the Wall Street Journal disagrees:

“The plan would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a program that directly pays those bills.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/04/11]

In fact, out of pocket expenses are expected to double for 48 million Americans. Floridians should be particularly concerned because according to a new report from the Joint Economic Committee, they will see the largest cost increase under the Ryan plan – an increase of $7,383 more than the same senior would be paying under Medicare as it is now. If you think that may be unaffordable for seniors living on annual incomes of $20,000, you would be right. If you think there are a lot of seniors falling in the $20,000/year income bracket, you would also be right. According to Howard Bedlin of the National Council on Aging, “One out of three seniors in the United States is economically insecure,” and low-income seniors already pay 25 percent of their incomes for health care, despite having Medicare.

Still the GOP keep to their message that corporate health care vouchers for seniors are a “free market” panacea. If you wonder why you need only look to the driving forces behind our health care system.

Roger Hickey writes,

“We are going to have to go after the driving forces in the American health care system: the complex of insurance companies, drug cartels, hospital and doctor syndicates, and the food-chemical industrial complex, all of which make Americans unhealthier, while driving up the cost of health care far above the Medicare trend line.”

While Congressman Ryan and others self proclaim their courage and boldness, some may wonder if their motivation is fear – fear of losing the support of the financial and corporate power structures that fund their campaigns. Perhaps they should also fear the American people who are losing patience with a Congress that too often puts the interests of insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies over those of our families’ health.

Have they heard that those living in Germany or France or Canada will never lose sleep fearing they may lose their health insurance if they have the misfortune of losing their job? They will never lose sleep fearing they may lose their home if they have the misfortune of becoming ill. In the U.S. these are fears that touch the lives of a growing number of Americans living in economic uncertainty.

The real facts about the advantages of a single payer system like Medicare are finally slipping through the propaganda and sound bites. They are taking root in the hearts and minds of Americans who are beginning to understand that America is lagging behind, and that the real exception in our health care is its deep and troubling disparity.

Diana Robinson Bardyn

Diana Robinson Bardyn