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Health Last Updated: Jun 4th, 2008 - 12:41:30

How Bush and the neocons plan to kill Medicare
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Jun 4, 2008, 00:24

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You think they went away when seniors jumped all over them last time? No, they just crawled under their rock for a while then crept back out. In fact, the Bush administration has recently said �unsustainable growth� in spending on programs like Medicare is contributing to �the biggest challenge to the nation�s economic health.� That�s a flat-out lie.

One of the biggest leeches sucking the blood of the federal budget is Bush�s continued tax breaks for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans. Trillions are whooshing off in that direction, not to mention the trillions on illegal wars. Nor can Bush blame it on the baby boomers who will be retiring, which is another old lie. The simple truth is that the Bush/neocon nexus plans to constantly shift Medicare cost from government to seniors, mostly living on fixed incomes, to make Medicare either unaffordable or unavailable to more and more seniors.

In Bush�s 2009 budget, he has proposed $556 billion in Medicare spending cuts over 10 years. These cuts will bleed the traditional Medicare benefits dry. His arbitrary �funding cap� asks for an expansion of �means-tested premiums,� which reared their ugly heads in 2007. For the first time in Medicare�s 43-year history, Part B means-premiums (for doctor care) were implemented. Thus, some seniors paid more, much more, for this life-preserving, life-saving care than others. Now the wolves would like to do the same to Part D premiums for drug coverage in 2009.

�Means-premiums� mean that if you earn more money, your premiums can be higher, even double or triple what somebody else pays, despite the fact that you probably paid higher taxes most of your working life and paid the various maximum caps on Social Security taxes. The idea here is to drive those seniors away from Medicare to private insurance. The truth is, Medicare was conceived of during Kennedy's presidency and signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson as a universal entitlement program. Bush and the neocons are now trying to turn Medicare into an income-based welfare program, i.e. the higher your income, the more you will pay.

If Bush applied that rule to our income tax, which is where it belongs, the trillions in planned giveaways to the top 5 percent earners would go away. We would return to a progressive not a regressive income tax, and fiscal health would return to Medicare and the US budget. Ending the illegal wars would help a great deal, too.

Moreover, the neocons should raise the Social Security income tax cap substantially, that is, how much of your total income can be taxed for Social Security. That figure has been modestly raised to $102,000 for 2008. That figure could easily go to $250,000, at least. This would bring considerably more income into the Social Security Trust Fund, and could help with Medicare, an integral component of Social Security.

So, as it stands today, Warren Buffet�s income cap on his Social Security tax is $102,000, despite the fact that he personally admits to earning �billions and billions of dollars.� He pays the same amount of Social Security tax as an individual making $102,000. Where is the �means� clause here, especially given the plethora of multi-millionaires and billionaires we boast of in this country. All payees pay at the same tax percentage, 6.20 percent of their wages. A matching amount of 6.20 percent is paid by their employers. While you�re at it, contemplate this fact: Billions of dollars that should be used to reduce seniors� costs are subsidizing profit-driven drug and insurance companies

For the above, we can thank the army of private industry lobbyists who practically wrote the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 with their clients� profits in mind, not seniors� finances. In fact, between 1998 and 2005, Big Pharma spent $900 million on lobbying, more than any other industry. Another $89.9 million found its way into federal candidates' campaigns and party committees� coffers, most of the payola going to those backing Medicare �reforms� that involved privatization.

Actually, greasing the wheels of government paid off. Big Pharma has become one of the biggest �beneficiaries� of the Medicare Modernization (think Privatization) Act, raking in record profits. President Bush�s 2009 budget proposal protects $150 billion in taxpayer-supported subsidies to the insurance industry over the next 10 years. Imagine that. So, as money is departing seniors� pockets for additional costs in the next 10 years, additional profits are rolling into the coffers of Big Pharma and insurance companies. Do we see a connect here?

Remember, too, the basic unfairness of the Part D for drug program. First, the coverage you pay for comes with the infamous �donut hole� in it. That is, after reaching $2,510 in covered prescription costs, beneficiaries must pay entirely from their pockets the next $3,216.25 of their covered drug costs. While picking up those expenses, you must continue to pay monthly premiums, because Medicare won�t pay again until �beneficiaries� have reached $5,726.25 in covered drug costs. Lastly, you pay for basic Part D �coverage" to an insurance company you choose from a list the government provides.

If you know you�re going to need more than the initial $2,510 in coverage, then you need to pay for more insurance to cover the �donut hole� itself. And of course, Medicare is not allowed to bargain with drug companies about their drug prices, even though Medicaid and the Veterans� administration is so allowed. No, the Bush �folks� just want to bleed the seniors dry with those cuts or chase them away if they can pay according to �means-premiums.� This while filling the pockets of the insurance and drug industries.

If you�re wondering where this information on the proposed cuts comes from, it�s from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. NCPSSM was launched in 1982 by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt�s eldest son, James, on whose arm that titan of a president/father often leaned to balance his upper-body from his polio-paralyzed legs. After the disease hit FDR at age 39, he had to re-learn to move by balancing himself on canes and/or other people, and appear to be walking.

What�s more, the ten pounds of braces FDR wore every day were painted black, and his trousers cut longer, so that no one would see them. Despite his constant pain through 12 plus years of presidential service, which included leading us from the Depression through WW II, FDR gave us scant glances of his infirmity. He didn�t want pity. Among his many concerns, his intention was always to bring financial relief and security to senior Americans, unlike the lame duck presently filling the White House. But then FDR was a profile in courage not cowardice -- a man of heart and compassion, not mean-spiritedness and cruelty. He signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935.

To return to NCPSSM, it does not sell insurance. It does not accept �donations� from drug companies or private interests. It is totally and solely supported by members, of which this senior and writer is proud to be one. This is for our clout, our wake-up call in the halls of Washington. And no one but my own conscience has asked or driven me to write this article. In fact, if you are a senior, I suggest for your own good that you forward them a contribution like I just did.

You can mail it to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Suite 600, 10 G Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002, call 1-800-966-1935, or visit them on the web. The Committee is presently headed by Barbara B. Kennelly. Seniors� best interests have been part of her life�s work for over 20 years -- first as a member of Congress and ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, and then as counselor to the commissioner of the Social Security Administration. She�s a good caring lady. Now, do the right thing and give her and yourself a hand in this ceaseless battle.

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

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