Commentary: Congress is fiddling while Medicare goes bankrupt

Democrats scored a political victory last Tuesday by winning a special election in a Republican congressional bastion in upstate New York where Medicare was the main issue. They should enjoy it while they can because this momentary triumph will turn to ashes if they think they can win next year’s national elections on the slogan that they did nothing to stop the soaring cost of Medicare.

Poll after poll shows that the American people are worried about the budget and the unsustainable national debt. Medicare is the biggest contributor to the debt and the annual budget deficit. Doing nothing is not an option.

But too many Americans like to have their cake and eat it, too. When proposed cuts affect the benefits they receive from entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, they balk. Don’t touch my Medicare! In New York’s 26th Congressional District race, Democrats successfully preyed on those fears by claiming the GOP’s reform plan would victimize seniors.

In fact, the plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., wouldn’t affect seniors over 55 and would not take full effect until 2021. Claiming that it amounts to throwing Grandma off the train is sheer demagoguery. It’s as phony as the notion of “death panels” leveled at President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

Yet even without the hype, Rep. Ryan’s plan is flawed and impractical. It changes a government program into a limited voucher plan that would leave many future seniors short of adequate medical coverage. It shifts costs to seniors rather than controlling the costs. And it’s based on a number of accounting gimmicks: Presumed “savings” are achieved by saying the government’s contributions to Medicare and Medicaid won’t grow at a rate greater than inflation.

That’ll be the day. Healthcare costs grow at a rate several times greater than inflation. Any plan that doesn’t take that into account is a fantasy. When the Democratic-controlled Senate forced a vote on the Ryan plan last week, it also went down to defeat, with the help of five GOP senators who know the plan won’t work.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.miamiherald.com.