There is nothing courageous about asking seniors and middle-class families who have already borne the brunt of this recession to shoulder painful cuts just to finance the policies driving our deficit - such as oil company subsidies, trillion-dollar tax cuts for millionaires and special-interest giveaways.
The House Republican budget, presented by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would protect these extravagancies at the expense of financial aid for 1.4 million students, nearly 500,000 infrastructure jobs and, most alarmingly, our retirees' guaranteed Medicare benefits.
If deficit reduction were truly the objective, the Republicans' budget would not make $4.3 trillion in spending cuts, affecting millions of seniors and families, only to offset those spending cuts with $4.2 trillion in tax cuts, mostly for special interests and a small group of very wealthy Americans.
To say that the Republican plan would end Medicare and harm seniors of today and tomorrow is no exaggeration. By reopening the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D - the coverage gap, this year between $2,840 and $4,550, in which beneficiaries pay all costs - the GOP plan would hike seniors' prescription drug bills by $2.2 billion in 2012 alone.
Then, instead of guaranteed benefits, future retirees - those under 55 - would receive vouchers worth a fraction of what private insurance costs. By 2030, the voucher would be $9,700, but a private policy comparable to Medicare would cost $30,000. The remaining $20,300 would fall on retirees.
Fifty-year-old Americans would need another $230,000 at retirement under this plan. Forty-year-olds would need an additional $300,000, and 25-year-olds would have to save more than $500,000 to afford private health insurance during retirement. That's because whether it is businesses, families or the federal government paying the bill, health care is getting more expensive.
Reducing Medicare and Medicaid spending by shifting costs to seniors is no revolutionary, new idea; it's a cop-out. Both are cost-effective programs. Medicare is more efficient than private insurance.
Medicaid is so cheap that many doctors cannot afford its low reimbursement rates. Most Medicaid enrollees are extremely poor families, but most Medicaid funding goes to long-term care for elderly and disabled Americans, at home and in nursing homes.
Slowing rising health care costs in the United States is not easy, but it is possible. Medicare was headed for insolvency in just five years, until the 2010 Affordable Care Act's $500 billion in cost savings extended the program's projected solvency from 2016 to 2029. Reforms recklessly vilified by Republicans last year as "death panels" and benefit cuts are now credited by Medicare's trustees with saving the program, and, hypocritically, are preserved in the House Republicans' own budget.
In their recent report, Medicare's trustees also emphasized how high unemployment and our sluggish economy are depriving Medicare of revenue and shortening the projected solvency to 2024. Congress must stop ignoring America's jobs crisis. Putting 14 million unemployed Americans to work, earning paychecks and contributing to the system, would help preserve Medicare.
Shifting skyrocketing costs to seniors is not reform. Building on the Affordable Care Act and getting more for less is the only way forward. Empowering Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drugs could save $156 billion this decade. Reducing medication errors could save up to $210 billion this decade. Granting doctors access to data on treatments' success rates could save time and money. Covering the uninsured, whose free care drives up everyone's costs, is imperative. Keeping seniors in their homes with community-based care is cheaper than long-term facilities.
Not all reforms will be easy. Slowing rising costs while continuing to pay doctors fairly for care demands a real bipartisan effort. Encouraging our disjointed system of hospitals, outpatient centers and providers to adopt the best practices of America's most efficient health care networks will take years.
But unlike the Republican plan, which would reduce the government's bills by hiking seniors' bills, the payoff of making health care more affordable would be enormous - and would not require ending our long-valued Medicare benefits.
Rep. Deutch wrote this article for The Palm Beach Post.