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Health Last Updated: Apr 26th, 2007 - 00:44:18

The 2003 Medicare Privatization Act
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Apr 26, 2007, 00:42

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Oh, excuse me. It�s the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. But it was passed in the dead of night back in 2003. And the good old-fashioned forces of privatization had their hands in it then and still do today. Unfortunately, they now have the help of some well-meaning patsies, believe it or not, such as the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

You remember in 2003, Medicare (and George W. Bush) came up with Part D, the drug benefit for seniors. Unlike the rest of Medicare, Part D doesn�t come directly from the government. You can only purchase it through private drug plans (barking like dogs for seniors� business). The bill also hiked payments to Medicare Advantage plans, funneling more money to insurance companies.

So, Medicare, originally a system that paid senior�s medical bills directly, is more and more becoming a government system which pays the insurance industry to provide coverage. We got a middleman, so a lot of the money never makes it to the people Medicare meant it for. Sound familiar? That�s our GOP: Grand Old Privatizers.

Going back to Part D, the private drug plans take a costly cut, via a layer of insurance bureaucracy. This cabal also has much less clout to bargain for lower drug prices than real government programs like Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration. If Congress cut out the middleman, it most probably would have a drug plan without the damn doughnut hole, the gap in coverage once annual drug expenses go over $2400 a year, and without a higher cost.

Also, the Medicare Advantage plans cost taxpayers 12 percent more per recipient than standard Medicare. That subsidy over the next five years will cost more than $50 billion, which could be used to cover every kid in America with health insurance. Sure, �some� of that $50 billion will go to seniors in extra benefits, but a lot will go to insurance company �overhead,� marketing, and profits. That�s privatization in a nutshell, the old shell game, follow the disappearing dollars.

Now with the Democrats� fall victory, you�d figure these things would change. But the D-news gets dumber and dumber.

First the Senate bailed on further debating a bill, in essence killing it, which would have allowed Medicare to bargain over drug prices. Yes, the bill wasn�t strong enough to get big discounts, but it would have introduced the notion of bargaining to get a better deal. In fact, in spite of all-out support for price negotiation, 42 Republican senators voted no on having the bill go forward. That�s part of privatization, jumping ship on seniors, kids, poor people and vets, so big corporations can suck up more money.

Now, if we can�t even get a bit of bargaining to begin with, how do we get to repair the damage done already by the 2003 act? That is, short of showing up at Congress� steps with walkers, canes, and a double shot of Viagra. Only it�s not funny, it�s pathetic. We need legislation for Medicare recipients to have the option of receiving their drug coverage directly from the government, without slipping insurance companies a piece of the action. That may seem out of reach, but it�s worth taking a swing at. Seniors, start making phone calls and writing letters again. It ain�t over �til it�s over.

On top of that, let�s call for Medicare to bring down those Medicare Advantage payments. Unfortunately, here�s where our friends at the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens are becoming part of the problem, not the solution. We love you but listen . . .

Through sheer disinformation, false claims by the insurance industry, both worthy groups have been led to believe that minorities benefit disproportionately (on the high side) from this subsidy. This claim in one word is �baloney�; in several words, it has been completely debunked in a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But the truth isn�t getting through. So wake up NAACP and United Latin American Citizens. Together we stand, divided we fall. And these finks want us to fall, one and all. Get that if you get nothing else.

What�s more, middle class people of every stripe are asking for universal health care for one good reason. Nobody wants the fear of losing health insurance in old age. And, even as we speak about universal insurance, our old enemies, the privatizers, are chewing away at Medicare. Those others mentioned, who should know better, are patting them on the back, when they should be booting them in the butt.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York. Reach him at

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