The final shape of legislation that would help Medicare beneficiaries with their drug bills probably won’t be known until fall. But an interesting situation is developing. It appears seniors won’t be happy with whatever comes out of a House-Senate conference committee.
This is a reversal of how things looked a few weeks ago, when Congress was being widely hailed for opening up the federal treasury for this massive new entitlement. Now, it seems $40 billion a year for 10 years won’t be enough for those who want a free medical ride.
In truth, seniors are expected to spend a total of $2.8 trillion on drugs in that same 10-year period. Thus Medicare will cover only one-seventh of the entire cost of geriatric prescriptions during that time. Seniors expected more. But the nation can’t afford more.
Seniors are right about one thing. While the president and members of Congress get the Cadillac of medical care plans — at public expense — the average citizen is getting an ’83 Volkswagen Rabbit. It isn’t fair.
What to do? Since the public can’t afford to give everyone a Congress-style medical plan, Congress could at least show some empathy and self-discipline. Shouldn’t congressmen be expected to get along with the same kind of benefits everyone else has in terms of deductibles, rising co-pays and outrageously priced prescriptions? Sure they should. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and as Congress crafts its new Medicare bill it would be only right for Congress to apply those same provisions to itself.
Don’t hold your breath, however. Because if there’s one thing politicians and tycoons in America do well, it’s taking care of No. 1. We got ours — we’ll give you yours if we feel like it.
No, the nation can’t afford a wide-open Medicare drug plan. The money — burned up in tax cuts and vanishing down a Middle Eastern rat hole called Iraq — just isn’t there. Even that $400 billion doesn’t really exist; all of it will come from deficit financing. Seniors should understand that.
Congress could cut its own benefits to show that it truly cares, but fat chance of that.