This week, at President Bush's urging, the GOP-controlled Congress is likely to approve a bill that severely restricts seniors' freedom of choice in health care.
When Congress passes the Medicare bill--which Bush has promised to sign--every American over age 65 will lose the freedom to choose, pay for, and control drug treatments. The proposal, set to start in three years, is a plan only Hillary Clinton could love.
In fact, its core premise--medical treatment controlled by the state--is an exact application of the Clinton health care philosophy. The similarity is not lost on the Clinton administration's former Medicare administrator, Nancy Min DeParle, who told the Washington Post: "Democrats should do everything they can to whisk [the Medicare bill] to [Bush's] desk. In signing it, as he will surely be forced to do, he will preside over the biggest expansion of government health benefits since the Great Society."
Even the conservative Heritage Foundation, which rarely opposes any Bush administration notion, opposes the Bush-backed Medicare reform. Heritage calls it "an unforgivable failure of leadership."
Both House and Senate versions of the bill force older Americans--three-quarters of whom already have private drug coverage--to join government purchasing cooperatives (dubbed PPOs) to get their prescriptions. Both bills grant government the power to define what drugs are acceptable for seniors and how much they will cost. Medicare recipients will also be forced to pay new drug deductibles--those making $60,000 must pay even higher out-of-pocket costs.
An analyst for the liberal Consumers Union, which favors nationalized health care, declared: "Most Medicare beneficiaries will find that their out-of-pocket costs will be higher. Seniors with their own private coverage are likely to lose it. The government's Congressional Budget Office estimates that 37 percent of all the nation's retired employees will lose their drug benefits. The real percentage is probably much higher."
Rationing health care for older Americans is, in a certain sense, Medicare's destiny; it had to happen. In 1965, on the premise that health care is a right, government forced doctors and hospitals to treat everyone over age 65 by rates and standards determined by the state--while preserving a patient's right to choose his or her doctor. Predictably, with health care for seniors subsidized, patients and doctors used medicine more than necessary, driving costs up.
Over the years, socialized medicine for seniors has completely distorted the market in medicine. Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress have abandoned the free market approach -- protecting free choice by gradually eliminating subsidized health care for seniors--because it has been deemed politically impossible. Instead, Bush's Medicare bill will let bureaucrats control how, when, where--and whether--older Americans receive treatment.
The Medicare bill puts to rest the notion that Bush and today's Republicans are seriously opposed to government-run health care. Last week, the bill's chief advocate, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), uttered the excuse: "We have to compromise." Bush's handpicked Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, proclaimed: "What we do today will affect every American." Frist is right: What he's done will make practicing and receiving medicine much worse.
President Bush, who has broken promises on everything from expanding medical savings accounts (MSAs) to opposing campaign finance reform, is advancing government-controlled health care faster than Hillary Clinton. As the New York Times described Bush's encouragement of the Medicare bill, "[Bush] has signaled, repeatedly, [his] willingness to compromise on ... free market principles."
The President's latest compromise makes Bush the nation's foremost advocate of state-run health care--which, for every American, means less choice, higher costs, and one huge step toward socialized medicine.
Scott Holleran is a health care correspondent and commentator. Holleran was a campaign aide and congressional assistant to House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Porter (R-Illinois). His email address is email@example.com.