Democrats like Kathy Castor rail against proposed Medicare privatization
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04/12/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Last week, US Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican chair of the budget committee, unveiled a budget plan that aims to cut trillions in federal spending over the long term. It would repeal the Affordable Care Act and effectively privatize Medicare. Democratic US Representative Kathy Castor criticized the proposal in Tampa today. She said the plan places the costs of health care on the shoulders of American families.

"It will shift the cost burden to hard working families. The private health insurance companies will take a large cut and health services provided to our seniors will decline."

Republicans are heralding the plan, which would put the 45-year-old entitlement program into private hands by 2022. Those under 55 will continue to pay into the system, and upon retirement will reportedly receive an annual $8,000 voucher to buy health insurance from a private company. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report suggesting that the program would cost seniors twice as much in 2022 as its projections for Medicare costs in that same year. Castor said it will also increase seniors’ out-of-pocket health care costs.

"You have an $8,000 coupon, you have a heart attack and you have to go to the emergency room, do you know what an emergency room visit costs right now? It's outrageous so what that would do is that would send you into poverty, most likely."

Former Social Security administrator Norman Bungard said he has seen a drastic improvement in quality of life for seniors since its 1966 implementation. The program covers an estimated 47 million Americans, and last year cost more than $500 billion. Bungard said the overall health of the population would diminish under the new plan.

"4.8 million Medicare claims are paid daily, what would we do, ladies and gentlemen, if we scrap this program or curtail it? That means that the health of seniors and the disabled is going to go down."

Opponents also point out that seniors are more expensive to insure, and that since they’d be shopping for policies in the private market, everyone else’s premiums would go up as well. Bungard said there are some lesser-known consequences of dismantling the system, including possible jeopardizing medical education in the US.

"The Medicare program, and this again gets lost in the discussion, also helps to fund teaching hospitals throughout the entire country."

Castor said there are other ways to help close the federal government’s enormous budget gap.

"We need to close the corporate tax loopholes that encourage companies to create jobs overseas rather than in the United States. We need to end the big tax loopholes for oil companies."

Debate over the proposal is expected to take place throughout the week. Castor said she expects the House to pass the bill essentially on party lines, though given Florida’s large number of senior citizens - it may have fewer GOP supporters in the Sunshine State.

"We have so many older neighbors, Medicare is vitally important to the health and well-being of all the families in Florida and when you combine that with Medicaid, remember Medicaid pays for nursing home care, not just for older neighbors but for all disabled, when they start slashing and cutting and slashing and cutting and eliminating those safety net initiatives, that puts everyone at risk."

Ryan’s plan would also eventually raise the Medicare beneficiary age to 67. One critic, Politics USA contributor Ray Medeiros, writes that money issued to seniors through the revamped program would ultimately “be funneled back to Representative Ryan and others through political donations, thanks to Citizens United.” Under Ryan’s plan, Medicaid would also be completely overhauled. Federal dollars for the program, which provides medical coverage for the uninsured poor, would be converted into block grants to be disbursed to states.

Previous WMNF news coverage of Medicare

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