The Real Cost of Medicare Vouchers

Republicans have turned their sights on Medicare now that their latest attacks on Social Security have failed.  They see the senior citizen health care program as more vulnerable because of the accelerating costs of health care continue to drive federal deficits.  Of course most of the current deficit was caused by the Bush tax cuts, two wars which we financed and the collapse of the global economy due to failed GOP economic policies.

Regardless rising health care costs are a reality absent a serious effort (such as a national single payer system) to rein in costs.  As more and more people drop out of the system the pool continues decreasing driving up costs for the remainder.  The smaller the pool the more each member must shoulder since the 59 million uninsured eventually get covered, somewhat, by the pool.  Senior citizens receive Medicare which is an 80/20 program supplemented by many with additional private coverage.  Medicare Part D covers many prescription costs.  The cost of prescription medications is one of the worst drivers of health care costs:

Rising medicine costs aren’t the only problem however.  Here is a graph showing healthcare costs as a percentage of gross domestic product:

Our current system is broken but Medicare is part of the solution.  Buraeucratic overhead in private industry costs between 25-30% depending on your information source.  Medicare has a 3% overhead.  This means far more of our healthcare dollars actually go towards health care versus private health insurers.  Ending Medicare and replacing it with a voucher system where seniors go into that private market will only increase overall costs.

The proposed voucher in the Ryan plan allow up to $6000/year.  People would be responsible for costs above that amount.  Medicare beneficiaries currently pay approximately $100/month for Part B coverage which comes to about $1200/year.  Combining those figures we have $7200/year available to cover medical insurance.  That is assuming each individual, couple or family can get coverage.  With restrictions on abuses eliminated as part of the Path to Prosperity those with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage and those facing catastrophic illness or injuries might be denied care as happens now.  There is nothing in the Ryan proposal protecting patients.

So where will people get the money to pay for future costs?  That $7200/year will buy less and less coverage every year.  As healthcare and prescription costs continue escalating more and more will be forced out of the pool creating an even worse problem than we currently face.  The way it is now with Medicare at least our senior citizens and those who are totally, permanently disabled, including veterans, will be pushed into the ranks of the uninsured.  According to federal data hospital spending increased 5.1% in 2009.  Physician and clinical services went up by 4% and other professional services (physical therapy, chiropractors, mental health, etc) increased by 5.3%.Health, residential and personal care services went up 8.3%, dental 1%, home health care 10%, nursing care facilities 3.1%, prescription drugs 5.3% and durable medical equipment actually went down by 0.8%.  Consider that this was a good year with decreases from 2008.  

Using an average annual cost increase of 8% which will be compounded each year how will the Ryan voucher of $6000 solve any of our problems?  It will not.  It will only exacerbate them by driving seniors out of the health care market and into early graves.  This is rationing, it is forcing people to make life and death decisions about balancing food, clothing, shelter, heat and other essentials against health care premiums and drugs.  We may as well be pushing our elderly off a cliff:

Using the current 8% figure if we project it out five years the cost of that privatized RyanCare will be $ 17,631/year.  Seniors will be left paying $10,431 of it out of pocket.  The average Social Security payment is around $1,000/month.  With no other income (and many senior citizens live only on Social Security) (I’ll add cola cost increases of $100/month for the five year period) they’d have around $3,000/YEAR for all other expenses.

This isn’t a solution it is a death sentence for our senior citizens.

Toomey Budget Plan Fails In Senate

The U.S. Senate yesterday rejected Pat Toomey’s extreme budget proposal 55-42.  A member of the Budget Committee Toomey, who won a close race against Joe Sestak for Arlen Specter’s seat from Pennsylvania, has introduced radical legislation concerning fiscal matters.  His “Pay China First” bill would require that federal debt obligations be paid before anything else.  That would include national defense, Social Security, food safety, medical research, disaster aid and every other priority of our national government.  You might recall Toomey is close to a major Chinese tycoon for whom he worked in Hong Kong.  

Instead of proposing real solutions to contain Medicare costs Toomey largely ignores the entitlement program for seniors.  He would limit federal spending to 18.5% of GDP and limit our national debt to 52% of GDP by 2021.  These are dangerous policies and could jeopardize our national security.

Imagine if such limits had been in effect in 1932 when the Great Depression devastated our land?  The New Deal spending which helped revive the nation would not have been possible.  When Japan attacked us at pearl Harbor we would have been severely limited in defending our nation against fascist aggressors and we could not have given critical aid to Britain.

Sen. Toomey also voted for the Ryan austerity budget which would give yet additional tax cuts to the rich while eliminating Medicare as we know it.  He would eliminate the federal program and privatize it to health insurers by giving senior citizens, the disabled and orphans vouchers worth $6000/year.  The average cost of such coverage in the open market is now $12,000 and rising rapidly.  How would disabled people, for example, even find coverage with their pre-existing conditions?  The Ryan/Toomey plan eliminates the important patient protections passed in the Affordable Care Act.

The real danger to programs such as Medicare and Social Security are the fixed caps on spending.  If the nation were faced with yet another national emergency we would have no choice but to eliminate these programs to remain under the fixed limits.  Ironically Toomey based part of his campaign attacking Congressman Sestak on the issue of Medicare.  Here’s one of his Mediscare ads which ran incessantly here in Pennsylvania:

Lifelong Democrat from Pat Toomey on Vimeo.

Update:  This is something the Democrats should be running statewide in response to Toomey:

Value Our Veterans By Maintaining Social Security

As we approach another Memorial Day and we gather to salute and remember those who fought for and defended our country let us also fight for them.  Attempts to dismantle Social Security are attempts to hurt veterans and their families.  771,000 veterans receive Social Security benefits and 35% of all recipients are veterans.  Nine millions vets collect Social Security and 4,000 children of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan receive survivors benefits.  Four of every ten veterans is on the senior citizen program and the rest will once they become eligible.

Why would we abandon our veterans, those we’ll be honoring this weekend, by cutting off a vital part of their lives?  It isn’t easy living on the monthly stipend, I know that quite well after almost twenty years collecting Social Security Disability.  Imagine how our veterans and their survivors would feel if the country abandoned them once more?  Most of our homeless are already vets and the health care we provide them through the VA is substandard.  These people signed up and served us are we going to turn around and do them a disservice?  Keep Social Security and make it stronger not weaker.  Eliminating the cap on incomes subject to taxation for the program insures its liquidity for 75 years.  We owe this to our vets this Memorial Day.

Dear City of Reading PA

Dear Sir/Madam

Upon my return home from work today I found the street in front of my home littered with trash. Clearly the city trash collectors either missed the truck or split open a bag in the street and never bothered to clean up the mess they left behind.

It is for precisely reasons like this that I retain my private trash hauler.

However we are left with a problem. I don’t feel it’s fair for me to have to pay to have my neighbor’s trash taken away which the city’s contract haulers left scattered about the street.

3 potential solutions present themselves:

1. I will have the trash hauled away and send the city a bill for reimbursement.

2. The city can come by and pickup the refuse if you tell me in advance when they will be coming.

3. I can leave the bucket on the steps of city hall for disposal.

In the case of options 2 and 3 I would like my bucket returned to me please.

Please let me know which option you would like to pursue to resolve this situation.

My thanks in advance for your kind attention and anticipated assistance.

____________________________

Yes this is the exact text of an email sent via the City’s Action Center website.

How long for a reply? When’s the next Rapture?

News & Notes May 26, 2011

Eric Cantor saw the tornado which ripped through Joplin and saw an opportunity, an opportunity to extort yet more spending cuts.  

Ed Schultz, the host on that clip was suspended by MSNBC for calling Laura Ingraham a “slut.”  That sort of language is never acceptable.  We may disagree with Ms. Ingraham but let’s try and keep our discourse above the level of an Ann Coulter.

In many aspects of his national security policy Barack Obama is worse than George W. Bush.  His crackdown on whistleblowers is definitely one such area.  Investigative journalism is already dying as newspapers close or cut staffs and news networks morph into entertainment divisions.  Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, one such whistleblower, said if successful the prosecution of Pfc. Bradley Manning would “a chill across all investigative journalism.”  

Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (doesn’t that name sound a bit…Italian?)  is under yet more fire.  Several of his officers have been arrested for heroin and human trafficking.  In a related matter SCOTUS today upheld an Arizona law designed to prevent businesses from hiring undocumented immigrants.  

How much are you willing to pay for food?  Do you understand that our relatively cheap food is subsidized by tax dollars and is produced mostly with illegal immigrant labor?

Japan’s Fukushima reactor had not one but three meltdowns.  I remember all the BS from the energy industry telling us meltdowns would never occur.

The AFL-CIO blog tells us how more and more of our jobs are low wage:

Between 1980 and 2009, labor productivity increased by 78 percent but:

   The median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old male high school graduates (with no college) declined by 10 percent.

   The median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old male college graduates (without graduate degrees) grew by 32 percent, less than one half as much as overall productivity growth.

   Only the median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old men with post-graduate training came close to labor productivity growth increasing by 49 percent.

This was the result of policy, not chance.

In other labor news the Wisconsin Supreme Court has overturned the recent anti-collective bargaining law because it was enacted illegally.

Serbia finally arrested war criminal and genocide leader Ratko Mladic.  One small step back to the path of civilization for that nation.

Vermont is the first state to enact single payer health care.

My guess is Sarah Palin won’t run for president.  She quit as Alaska Governor to cash in so why dump her lucrative gig for such a huge pay cut?

Toomey Votes to End Medicare

The Senate voted 57-40 today to defeat the Paul Ryan sponsored austerity fiscal plan which gave huge new tax cuts to the rich while eviscerating Medicare.  Sen. Reid brought the bill to a vote to force Republicans to either vote for their Party’s platform or dare cross their Tea Party backers.  The vote to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with vouchers for private insurance good for only partial payment has proved to be deeply unpopular.   Now Pat Toomey and 40 other GOP Senators have this vote hanging around their re-election chances like an anchor.  Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski all voted with the Democrats plus Rand Paul who thought the bill didn’t go far enough in totally ending Medicare.

Pat Toomey’s austerity plan also got a test vote.  

Greens, Libertarians Join to Condemn GOP Judicial Candidate Stabile

Two third parties combined on a press release this week condemning Republican Superior Court nominee Vic Stabile.  The victor of last week’s Republican primary for Superior Court was instrumental in kicking third party candidates off ballots in recent elections.

Ballot access in Pennsylvania is a serious problem and both major political parties regularly engage lawyers and judges to eliminate these rivals.  The result is that voters have few choices when they go to the polls to cast their ballots.  This is shameful.

Stabile not deserving for Superior Court Judge

Wilkes-Barre, PA — Pennsylvania Libertarian Party chair Lou Jasikoff declared the GOP’s choice for Superior Court Judge as nothing short of shameful.  Victor Stabile led the charge to get Libertarians knocked off the ballot in 2008 and was recently quoted as being pleased by efforts to keep the Green and Libertarian Parties from appearing on the statewide 2010 ballot.  “Stabile cloaks himself in the American flag while trampling on the very cornerstone of our democracy and should not be rewarded under any circumstance with a judgeship on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court,” insisted Jasikoff.

Green Party representative Carl Romanelli stated, “The last defense of democracy and the Constitution is the judiciary. When it is corrupted or co-opted, it represents the most significant threat to the principles that once made America the grand protector of liberty. The shame and disgrace of Victor Stabile should not only be rejected by victims of his partisan decisions, but also by his peers. The lack of meaningful review reflects as poorly on justice in Pennsylvania as does Stabile’s blatant obstruction of our rights.  It is sad to think that the cradle of democracy, Pennsylvania, has now become its graveyard.”  

Romanelli, the U.S. Senate candidate in 2006 for the Pennsylvania Green Party, www.gppa.org, has long contended that his own removal from the ballot could not have been accomplished without the aid of partisan judges. Romanelli, a retired employee of the Luzerne County Courts, added, “Stabile’s comments, and record in ballot-access cases, prove that both old parties are equally corrupted at the judicial level. The prevailing attitude is that anything goes in keeping other voices out of political debate and participation. Judges remain in violation of the Judicial Canons with such partisan behavior.”

Ken Krawchuk, the Libertarian candidate for Pennsylvania Governor in 1998 and 2002, was shocked to hear Stabile was running for Superior Court Judge.  This is the same man who led the failed challenge to have the 2008 Libertarian presidential candidate removed from the statewide ballot. When someone is so ignorant of the law as to mount a frivolous challenge, or so inconsiderate of the voters of Pennsylvania to attempt to limit their choices on the ballot, it’s clear he lacks the knowledge, character and integrity to serve as a judge at any level.” Krawchuk, who is the Libertarian representative to the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition, www.PaBallotAccess.org, added, “If Stabile had any sense of justice at all, he’d be working with us to reform Pennsylvania’s atrocious ballot-access laws, which are among the worst in the nation, not exploiting them for political gain.”

“Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation where judges elected in partisan elections determine which candidates may appear on the ballot,” said Oliver Hall of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Competitive Democracy. “Now that Pennsylvania courts have begun to assess costs against candidates just for defending nomination petitions that they are required by law to submit, it is more important than ever that judges demonstrate a commitment to protecting candidate and voter rights to participate in free and equal elections – rather than the partisan interests of the judges’ campaign contributors.”

Wayne Allyn Root Vice-Presidential candidate on the 2008 Libertarian ticket concluded, “Ballot access is a fundamental right we enjoy as Americans. We can no longer allow or tolerate political operatives like Stabile to subvert that right; simply put it is Un-American. To purposely disregard laws on the books that allow for candidate substitution, or applaud efforts that totally ignore voter intent is unconscionable. Stabile is the face of everything wrong with Pennsylvania’s ballot-access laws and his flawed and biased judgment should not find its way on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.”

The Libertarian Party along with the Green Party and groups like the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition, Free and Equal Organization and other liberty groups in Pennsylvania intend to make ballot access a major focus of conversation this election cycle.  Only when all Americans can freely compete in the arena of ideas will we be able break the back of corruption that has so permeated our political system.

PA Dems Greet Returning GOP Staffers From NY-26

Congressman Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” which would again slash taxes for the richest Americans while eliminating Medicare and replacing it with privatized vouchers, led to an epic defeat for the GOP in yesterday’s NY-26 special election.  You’ll recall the Republican Congressman there who got caught advertising his “services” on Craigslist?  Problem was the guy was married and his constituents didn’t appreciate the shirtless pics posted online to attract women sexual partners.

The deeply red district in the Buffalo area attracted a dozen Republican staffers from the PA GOP to keep the Congressional seat but Democrats hit the GOP very hard on the plan to kill Medicare and it flipped to Blue.  So the PA Dems went to the PA GOP office and encouraged them to continue the self inflicted pain caused by the radical vote for Ryan Care.  This week GOP Senators get a chance to vote themselves out of office too when the bill comes to a vote in the upper chamber.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party says seven Republican Congressional Districts here have similar demographics as NY-26:

PA18 – Murphy

PA3 – Kelly

PA8 – Fitzpatrick

PA15 – Dent

PA7 – Meehan

PA6 – Gerlach

PA11 – Barletta

Photos are courtesy of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party:

Pa. House Approves $27.3 Billion Budget

( – promoted by John Morgan)

A blog post from Chris Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 109-92 Tuesday to approve a state budget that sets spending at $27.3 billion for the 2011-12 fiscal year – the same amount proposed in Governor Tom Corbett’s March budget plan.

The budget cuts $1 billion from public schools and reduces Governor Corbett’s budget by $471 million for health and human services for women, children and people with disabilities. It fails to enact a drilling tax on natural gas and leaves untouched a $500 million state revenue surplus.

Philadelphia GOP Representatives Dennis O’Brien and John Taylor joined all Democrats (except Representative Kenyatta Johnson, who was absent) to vote against the bill. All other Republicans (except Representative Nick Miccarelli, who was absent) voted in favor of the bill.

According to The Associated Press, at least 74 members spoke on the bill – which House Speaker Sam Smith said might constitute a record.

Now all eyes will be on the Senate, which will likely take up the bill in early June and move the process closer to a resolution.

In the House debate, many members raised concerns about cuts to schools, colleges, hospitals and services for the most vulnerable, and made the case for using the state’s $500 million revenue surplus. Otherwise, several members said, we will be facing higher property taxes, crowded classrooms for our kids and increased college tuition costs.

We have been saying for weeks that the House budget is a step backwards that keeps most of the cuts to schools and colleges while slashing human services. It will cost jobs in hospitals and puts health care at risk for 100,000 vulnerable families, seniors and people with disabilities.

Pennsylvania has the money to restore many of these cuts today. Lawmakers should use the $500 million surplus to restore cuts to schools and human services, and prevent local property tax increases. If you agree, Better Choices for Pennsylvania has an Action Page where you can send a message to your Senator in support of a more responsible budget.

If you want more details, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has a thorough analysis of the House budget (House Bill 1485). Better Choices for Pennsylvania also has talking points on the House budget.