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Home > Opinion-Editorials: 2003
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Kill Bill—to Expand Medicare

By Scott Holleran
October 14, 2003

From time to time, Congress passes, and the President signs, a bill that forever changes every American's life. The Medicare prescription drug coverage bill—which President Bush has vowed to sign—is such an event; if passed, this expansion of Medicare, like the Medicare Act of 1965, will make history.

With the nation at war following a devastating attack, the economy struggling, and every realistic economic analyst forecasting financial trouble for the 38-year-old government program, expanding Medicare is among the most ill conceived notions in American politics. The motive: to pay for prescription drugs for seniors.

Seniors rank among the richest, if not the wealthiest, generation of old people to exist—they are generally far more active, lively and prosperous than their parents—and all we hear about seniors is where they're taking this year's vacation and how to refinance their second homes. Few, if any, seniors are forced to choose between prescription drugs and dinner, so on what grounds do Congress and the President propose to grant seniors a huge drug subsidy?

Because, Medicare expansion advocates claim, drugs are expensive. There's no doubt about that—prescription drugs are expensive for Americans at any age—and the relatively high cost is related to higher demand for drugs among people over age 65, who are living longer than anyone expected because drugs are helping to prolong their lives.

Robbing from future generations of Americans to pay for the richest seniors in history is deeply immoral, but that has not moved Congress or the President to kill the Medicare drug subsidies bill.

Maybe this will: the bill is likely to eliminate retired Americans' existing prescription drug benefits. Just how many companies will be forced to kill drug coverage for retired employees is impossible to predict, but the lowest estimate based on studies puts the number of employers who will stop paying for drugs at 37 percent of those who currently offer such plans. That's according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Congressional conference committee negotiating Medicare expansion is led by Sen. Frist (R, TN), who is wholly determined to enact the largest expansion of the state's role in health care in almost 40 years.

Apparently, Sen. Frist has become alarmed at the prospect of seniors getting dumped for drug coverage and he has ordered committee members to devise ways to force employers to do it. Until now, employers were relatively free to decide what benefits they offer their employees.

Sen. Frist's dictate is based on the concept of force. However employers are forced to provide benefits is irrelevant; the mere consideration of such measures is tantamount to nationalization of employee benefits. In any form, it is a dangerous step toward national socialism, an economic system in which the state controls the corporation.

Sen. Frist, a heart surgeon who chose to practice politics over practicing medicine, doesn't stop there: according to the Associated Press, the committee recently issued a memorandum demanding that members act in total secrecy. In conjunction with President Bush, who basically named him as Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Frist is running the committee like it's Hillary Clinton's Health Care Task Force.

There is no real demand for an expansion of Medicare among the American people. Surveys show that America's seniors are wary of drug coverage provided by the state and even the most loyal Bush defenders, such as the Heritage Foundation, oppose Medicare expansion.

This is a crucial moment for those who seek free choice in medicine and yearn for a real reckoning with the cause of America's higher health care costs: government intervention. Americašs patients, doctors, and drug companies are on the brink of losing the right to control their health care and there is a slim chance to stop it. Today, Americans face a fundamental choice in their health care: either oppose the proliferation of Medicare or let America make one, big, historic leap—toward government-run health care.

Scott Holleran is a freelance writer in California.

 

Copyright © 2003 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.
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