One of the most important issues facing the next Congress will be how best to ensure the future of Medicare. Members of both parties have “kicked the can” down the road on Medicare and other critical programs. If we really believe these programs serve a vital purpose, as I do, burying our heads in the sand is no longer an option. That’s why my priority as Congressman will be to preserve, protect and strengthen this vital program so it is available for those who depend on it now and in the future.
The immediate problem facing Medicare is one of demographics. More than 10,000 baby boomers are enrolling in the program every day. As a result of this influx, over the next decade the number of enrollees will double from 35 million to 75 million seniors and the annual cost will increase from roughly $500 million to close to $1 trillion.
Both parties have contributed to the situation we’re in with Medicare, as with many other government programs. Today isn’t the time to demagogue this issue or to call each other names for political advantage. Rather, we need to roll up our sleeves and go to work together to fix what is broken. It’s time for leaders to lead – and to level with the voters about the perils so many of these important programs face.
Given this stark reality, President Obama's own Medicare Trustees reported that if nothing is done to shore up Medicare, the program will go bankrupt in 2024. That is five years earlier than forecast last year. That could lead to an immediate 17% reduction in benefits.
Unfortunately, after decades of overpromising, overspending, and the accumulation of massive debt, the federal government is for all proposes broke and won’t be in a position to bail out the program. The financial management of our country is so poor that the government is currently borrowing 40 cents of every dollar just to meet basic operational expenses.
To make matters worse, when Obama Care passed in 2010 Congress needed a way to pay for it. Congressman Tierney and other supporters of Obama Care voted to take $716 billion out of the Medicare program and instead divert it to pay for Obama Care. Unfortunately, his action further destabilized the program’s finances.
Then the Congress did something even more troubling by establishing a 15-member unelected Medical Review Board with unprecedented powers to cut seniors’ access to care by dictating payment schedules and limiting access to treatments and procedures. It will act as a rationing mechanism for care and will interfere with decisions that are typically made between a doctor and patients. As a result, almost every major medical association in Massachusetts has called for repeal of this Board. I, too, strongly oppose the Board because America can and should do better than rationing our senior’s health care.
It is clear that the only way to ensure that Medicare remains solvent and is available for future generations is for leaders to step forward who are honest and willing to level with the American people. In the 1980s, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan joined with Republican Senator Robert Dole on the bipartisan “Greenspan Commission,” which tried to address Social Security funding issues. Now is the time for a new bipartisan approach to resolving Medicare’s funding issues.
Among the new generation of leaders who support putting Medicare on a solid footing are Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. Together, they’ve formed a plan to strengthen and preserve Medicare. The Ryan/Wyden plan will do the following: First, anyone 55 years or older would be protected from any changes to their Medicare benefits. In other words, no senior currently in the program or anyone over 55 years would be affected by any changes to the program.
Future retirees who are currently under 55 years old would be allowed to choose either to enroll in the existing Medicare system, or choose from competing plans that best fit their needs. Those plans would operate in a manner similar to that of the popular Medicare prescription drug benefit.
The belief behind the Ryan-Wyden plan is that competition among Medicare providers will increase efficiency of health care and drive costs down. Sound radical? Actually, these are the same types of choices Members of Congress currently enjoy. Furthermore, most of us under 55 are quite familiar with the process of shopping around for the plan that best suits our needs.
It is true that Ryan’s initial Medicare reform plan would have resulted in larger out of pocket costs for future enrollees. The proposal was by no means perfect. However, Ryan and Wyden did something that is uncommon in Washington today. They worked across the aisle with each other, compromised, and, in the end, produced a better proposal.
As the Congressman from this district, I will work on a bi-partisan basis to find solutions to the Medicare crisis. If a Congressman or Senator is serious about reforms, I don’t care if they have an “R” or a “D” next to their name – nor do the voters. I want to make sure that Medicare is available for the next generation and will work with problem-solvers to find real solutions.
Three principles will guide me in preserving and strengthening Medicare’s future. First, no cuts, changes or rationing for current recipients or those who are now 55 years or older. Second, no more band aids or kicking the can down the road. I will only support solutions that actually begin fixing these problems for the long term. And finally I will consider any plan that does not hurt the economy’s ability to grow in the future.
As a state senator, I served for many years as a member of the Committee on Elder Affairs and fought for many initiatives and laws that benefited our senior population. Both my mother and grandmother are currently enrolled in Medicare and I can assure you that I will do everything I can to preserve and protect this program for them and for future generations to come.