Congressional Republicans voted to eliminate the Medicare program as part of their budget proposal. While their lack of support for Medicare has been raised in political campaigns before, now it is official. If Democratic politicians cannot take advantage of this vote to build new majorities in Congress for years to come they are the most incompetent politicians in the history of the world.
Democrats appear prepared to use this issue. Barack Obama pledged to block any plan which turns Medicare into a voucher plan in his budget speech earlier this week. DCCC chair Steve Israel predicted, “When we win back the majority, people will look back at this vote as a defining one that secured the majority for Democrats.”
While the measure would technically destroy Medicare for those ten years away from now qualifying for the programs, seniors currently on Medicare should also be concerned about the effects of this plan. If those under 55 did not expect to ultimately benefit from going on Medicare, political support for the program would erode and it is hard to imagine funding continuing. A voucher program would not be able to provide health care insurance which adequately covers the needs of seniors. Health insurance companies already do a terrible job of covering those over forty on the individual market in their efforts to avoid covering people who actually need health care coverage. The insurance companies do not want to cover people with pre-existing conditions, and this applies to a very high percentage of those on Medicare. The one exception where private insurance companies have insured the Medicare population has been Medicare Advantage plans, but many companies have already left this market after the subsidies to care for these patients were reduced. It currently costs about twelve percent more to cover people under private Medicare Advantage plans than in the government plan, showing how the private insurance industry is a poor alternative to the Medicare program.
The Ryan budget should be enough to cost the Republicans control of Congress for years to come if the Democrats are at all competent in using the issue. Things could have been even worse for the Republicans. An even more extreme budget which nobody expected to pass was also brought to a vote today. Democrats started to vote present instead of no so that it might pass with Republican votes, leaving Republicans to defend measures which would be even more unpopular. Republicans caught on and several voted no to kill this measure in favor of the Ryan budget.