Policy Documents

Stop The Government's Illegalities On Social Security, Medicare

Dick Armey –
May 22, 2009

Medicare and Social Security trustees on May 12 painted a grim, but not surprising picture of the failing financial health of two entitlement programs.  Social Security will be insolvent by 2016, a year earlier than predicted just last year; Medicare by 2017, two years earlier than last year’s forecast.
So why are the Department of Health and Human Services and Social Security Administration fighting tooth and nail to prevent a handful of seniors – including yours truly – from opting out of Medicare Part A, the costly hospital insurance program?
Having some percentage of seniors pay for their own hospitalization coverage would seem like a gift to the cash-strapped Medicare program. From a financial standpoint, the more seniors who choose this option the better.
But the government will have no part of it. Why?  Perhaps because doing so could undermine the push for universal health care.
If the government allows us to exercise our legal right to pay privately for medical care, Washington also will have to allow other seniors to decide whether they want Part A coverage or private coverage. And this is the exact opposite of the direction the administration wants to go.
This might not be much of an issue except that Medicare coverage is sure to deteriorate over time as the baby boomers retire and their expectations, old-age infirmities and the burgeoning federal budget deficit collide. Medicare benefits already are limited and are sure to be rationed far more in the future.
There is no law or regulation that says Social Security recipients must receive their health coverage from Medicare. Yet that is the position the government has taken. According to backdoor administrative measures adopted some 16 years ago and only recently coming to light, Medicare-eligible seniors are denied their Social Security benefits if they do not enroll in Medicare Part A.
Without Medicare, many seniors would have no health coverage at all.  Others, however, have spent years making plans to provide for their own health care coverage in old age because they realize Medicare services are rationed, inferior to those they could obtain privately, and are administered with little or no concern for privacy.
During my 18-year career in public office I campaigned tirelessly for less government intrusion in the lives of Americans. Telling seniors they must accept Medicare coverage or lose their Social Security benefits is the ultimate intrusion.
That’s why I have joined four other seniors who wish to make their own health choices in a lawsuit challenging the government’s edict.
The government has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court is hearing arguments on their motion on May 22. The government’s arguments, however, are flimsy.
The best they can do is argue that the plaintiffs lack standing (nonsense) and did not “exhaust their administrative remedies” before going to court (more nonsense).  In fact, John Kraus, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, asked to withdraw from the hospital insurance program in February 2006. For more than three years, SSA failed to even respond to his request.
There can only be two possible explanations for this: incompetence or arrogance. Take your choice. Neither enhances one’s confidence in government health bureaucrats or strengthens the administration’s case for universal health insurance overseen by Washington.
The current policy not only violates the right of individuals to make their own health choices, but violates Social Security and Medicare law.
If the Social Security Administration wants to defend its decision, it can publish the proposed policy in the Federal Register as required by law, accept comments, hold hearings and issue a formal ruling. But it can’t impose such an arbitrary and harmful policy by fiat. The courts, we are confident, will see to that.
Former U.S. House Majority Leader Richard K. “Dick” Armey, Chairman of FreedomWorks, served in Congress from 1985 to 2003. He is a plaintiff in Brian Hall et al v. Kathleen Sebelius et al., a lawsuit challenging the government’s decision to deny Social Security benefits to seniors who refuse to accept Medicare coverage.