Monday, December 10, 2012

Supporters of Medicare are calling Obama on his trial balloon to cut proposal benefits in the program

Lately I've gotten into one of those phases where I'm wondering if I should just post two or three times a day, "read Digby" or "read Charlie Pierce." Both are following the "fiscal cliff" drama, which is a farce that could have literally deadly implications for people who will be hurt by the human sacrifice in terms of cuts to benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that elite political and media consensus have decided are necessary and unavoidable.

But for whatever value I'm adding, if only a tiny bit more noise on the issue in the blogosphere, I'm adding my own transmission of their information here. Pierce in The Actual Cost Of Washington's Clever Debt Deal Esquire Politics Blog 12/10/2012, he takes up the issue of Alzheimer's, which Peter Coy mentioned in his Bloomberg Businessweek article (The Fiscal Cliff Isn't the Problem 12/06/2012) that I discussed yesterday. Pierce's take:

We are on the brink of an epidemic of AD in this country. There are 5.4 million people with the disease right now, and there are estimated to be another 15 million people — mostly, aging spouses and economically stressed children — providing what amounts to $210 billion in unpaid care. (There are estimated to be 800,000 people with the disease who are living alone.) The disease already costs $140 billion to Medicare and Medicaid. By 2050, it is estimated, and assuming a cure is not found, the total cost of caring for Alzheimer's patients could soar past $1 trillion.

The current plan being bruited about in Washington would raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 years of age. This is the low end of the Alzheimer's spectrum, but the increase in diagnosed cases is still significant, rising three percent per thousand people nationally just between 2000 and 2008. In John Boehner's Ohio, there are 13,000 people roughly within that window with the disease. There are 7,100 in Eric Cantor's Virginia, and 5700 in Paul Ryan's Wisconsin. All of these people represent not only the ravages of the disease, but the severe emotional and economic strain that it puts on their families. All of these people represent a considerable amount of pain that is not being factored into the shrewd political calculations that get you on the Sunday shows.
Pierce also looks at what's left of "welfare" proper (the Supplemental Security Income Program) in The Voices Missing From The Safety Net Debate Esquire Politics Blog 12/10/2012 and explains one of the common scams used to denigrate poor people and smear federal assistance to them, in this case brought to us by alleged liberal Nicholas Kristoff. Pierce:

Oh, dear god, have I seen this movie before. You have the heartbroken local bureaucrat without any specific examples, just "many people." You have the statistics-free analysis of programs, and you have the pet "scholar" from the American Enterprise Institute who, in a stunning coincidence, writes a book concluding pretty much the same thing about social-welfare programs that everyone else at AEI believes. Indeed, his work reinforces the ideas that the AEI was set up in the first place to promote. (Burkhauser, you will note, has made a career out of suggesting an increased work ethic on people who are not him.) And, of course, there is the anguished liberal conscience of the Times columnist. What's missing, of course, are any of the actual people who allegedly are getting fat on disability payments.
Liberals like Kristoff in this mode are indispensable for the Republican reactionary project of gutting social services in the US. From Herman Melville's The Confidence Man:

"You are an abolitionist, ain't you?" [the rough Missourian asked the herb-doctor]

"As to that, I cannot so readily answer. If by abolitionist you mean a zealot, I am none; but if you mean a man, who, being a man, feels for all men, slaves included, and by any lawful act, opposed to nobody's interest, and therefore, rousing nobody's enmity, would willingly abolish suffering (supposing it, in its degree, to exist) from among mankind, irrespective of color, then am I what you say."

"Picked and prudent sentiments. You are the moderate man, the invaluable understrapper of the wicked man. You, the moderate man, may be used for wrong, but are useless for right."
Digby not only has excellent political analysis. She also has the right attitude. In Day of Action Hullabaloo 12/10/2012, she writes about the "fiscal cliff" drama: "Going over the cliff is entirely in the president's hands. He just handily won re-election and he can dictate the terms. There is no reason for any 'concession', certainly not now."

Digby also points to and recommends Joan Walsh's article, "Fiscal cliff" cruelty Salon 12/10/2012 in which she explains that the Medicare benefit cuts proposed by the White House in trial balloon form is a terrible idea. She reminds us not to be naive about trial balloons and how they work. They are a long-established political tool: "The worst sellouts of liberal principles allegedly under consideration by the White House, particularly a hike in the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, may be trial balloons by staffers, or outrages floated in order to make other compromises more palatable to progressives later."

She also says, and very rightly so, "Raising the Medicare eligibility age is so bad that I literally can’t believe the president would consider it. Even though there’s evidence he might."

And as long as I'm fiscal cliffing here, this from Joan's article reminds me of something:

Meanwhile, a compromise on the top tax rates is likewise a bad idea, because 39.6 percent is already a compromise. Everyone who talks about rebuilding the middle class needs to acknowledge how we did it last time around: with a top marginal tax rate above 90 percent through both Eisenhower administrations. John F. Kennedy cut it to 70 percent, and that’s where it stayed until Reagan slashed it – and we know how good the Reagan revolution was for the middle class. I’m not saying that’s where it should return, but if we keep sacrificing progressivity, we’ll never have the money we need to do what we need to do. Tax rate hikes shouldn’t stop at $250,000. There should be more, and higher, tax rates on the super rich.
Listening to some of the chatter on the "fiscal cliff" hoo-hah, I've started to wonder how many people actually know what marginal tax rates are. Because I rarely if ever see it explained in news articles. I'm guessing there is some large portion of the public who thinks that a 90% marginal tax rate on the highest portion of income means 90% tax on all income.

This is an important part from Joan's article on current politicking to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid around the "fiscal cliff":

The White House seems to be playing both sides of the street on the question of whether it’s thinkable to go over the cliff. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told reporters the administration is “absolutely” prepared to do so if the GOP won’t budge on top tax rates. But that same day, the White House was meeting with Latino groups to build support for a theoretical fiscal cliff deal, by outlining the ways Latinos would be hurt by the tax hikes and program cuts that would (eventually) be triggered. Thursday they did the same thing with African-American groups. As long as we’re getting racial, it’s worth pointing out that keeping the top tax rates low, or compromising at 37 percent, is an absolute Christmas gift for wealthy white people, who make up a wildly disproportionate share of the top earners. And the lower life expectancy of African-Americans makes raising the Medicare eligibility age particularly cruel.
And it's very true that cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will hit minorities disproportionately hard. Journalists should be jamming Obama and other Administration officials on that point. David Dayen discusses this point in Medicare Eligibility Age Increases Particularly Levies Pain on Seniors of Color FDL News 12/10/2012: "coverage disparities between the rich and poor melt away at 65 right now, and particularly between whites and minorities. Delaying that two years just means two more years where poor people of color will defer medical care and live without health insurance."

And, yes, cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would be a terrible betrayal of the solid majority that just re-elected Obama. Joan Walsh:

So yeah, I think these are appalling ideas. We just had an election in which the president promised to protect Medicare, and never once publicly supported raising the eligibility age to 67, while Romney’s advisers said his plan included hiking the age. (Romney himself avoided details about any of his plans.) Post-election polls find that two thirds of voters oppose increasing the Medicare eligibility age. Should this deal become reality, it would reinforce the cynicism Americans harbor about government – and about Democrats. Deservedly.

The truth is, Obama should be pushing to lower the Medicare eligibility age, to let those 55 and over opt to buy into the program with their own money. The premiums paid by a younger, healthier cohort would help stabilize the program, while the benefits of getting that population insured earlier would keep costs down later. That’ll never happen, you say? Well, we can make sure it’ll never happen if progressives never ask for it.

Honestly, the only real reason to throw seniors into the Obamacare pool is to put more people at the mercy of private insurance, and weaken both the economic and political basis for Medicare. [my emphasis]
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