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MSNBC: Democrats Laud Medicare As a Good Model for Universal Healthcare, though It Is Replete with Waste, Inefficiency, and Debt

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Posted on August 2 2009 8:49 pm

Guest-hosting for Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s Countdown program Friday, Richard Wolffe disparaged the ”angry protesters” who have turned up at recent town-hall meetings where Democrats have sought to educate attendees about the purported joys of socialized medicine. The actions of these demonstrators, said Wolffe, are being “coordinated and coached by industry-funded, right-wing operatives.”

Wolffe then treated his viewers to film footage of Rep. Anthony Wiener (D – NY), who recently introduced an amendement that would have abolished, with the stroke of a pen, the entire Medicare program — the primary insurance program for Americans over the age of 65. Mocking Republican criticisms of the government-run healthcare proposal currently championed by the likes of Barack Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Wiener said:

“This amendment is simple. It gives my Republican friends the chance they’ve been waiting for to vote against government-sponsored, government-run, government administered health care. It’s your dream amendment. This is put-up or shut-up time.”

Wiener’s transparent ploy, which one GOP congressman aptly dubbed “a farce,” was an attempt to depict Republicans as hypocrites for opposing the Democrats’ proposal while continuing to support Medicare. Wiener is well aware that in the current political climate, it is untenable for any politician — Democrat or Republican — to vote against Medicare. Wiener himself did not support even a word of the amendment that he was proposing. His act amounted to nothing more than a grandstand play by a childish showboat.

Political considerations aside, however, it is a shame that Medicare cannot be scrapped and replaced with free-market alternatives. By any measure, the program has become a mammoth boondoggle that does not even come close to providing people with benefits comparable to those that can be obtained through private-sector health insurance.

Implicit in Wiener’s insipid remarks is the presumption that Medicare is a thriving program. But consider this: At this moment in time, the unfunded liabilities of Medicare Parts A and B equal $68 trillion. Beyond that, former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker says that Medicare Part D, which has accumulated unfunded liabilities of more than $17 trillion in the past three years, is “probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s … because we promise way more than we can afford to keep.”

In his book Common Sense, Glenn Beck puts it this way:

“It’s clear that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans (champions of Medicare Part D) really care anymore. They know that when all the bills come due they will either be living a comfortable retirement with the proceeds from a fully vested government pension and access to excellent medical care through their own federal healthcare plan, or they’ll be dead. That’s why they have no incentive to do the right thing, just the politically expedient one.”

Apart from Medicare’s fiscal insolvency (which threatens to break the American economy), the program is notorious both for its wastefulness and its failure to adequately reimburse doctors – a fact that translates into a host of serious, real-life problems for seniors who need healthcare. In her landmark book The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care, Sally Pipes explains:

Medicare, the primary insurance program for Americans over the age of 65, is funded entirely by the federal government, i.e. taxpayers. In fiscal year 2007, Medicare spent $427 billion accounting for 16 percent of the federal budget. This year, Medicare will spend more than it collects from payroll taxes and by 2017, it will spend $884 billion. It will take a payroll tax of 6.4 percent just to keep the program afloat…. But it also wastes an enormous amount of money. Studies show that Medicare officials waste as much as $1 out of every $3 the program spends. That’s hardly a system worth expanding….

Both Medicare and Medicaid also impose price controls by setting low reimbursement rates to doctors and hospitals. This has caused an enormous amount of hardship, as an increasing number of doctors are refusing to see patients if the government is footing the bill. Nearly one in three seniors in search of a new doctor is struggling to do so, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. “When I moved down here, I thought the only difficulty would be in finding good ones,” reported a newly enrolled Medicare patient about finding a doctor in Raleigh, N.C. “but it turned out that I would call a place and say, ‘I have Med–’ and they wouldn’t even let me finish.”

The government may efficiently control the costs at which doctors are reimbursed. This does not, however, account for the pain and suffering people endure waiting for care or the value of their time spent searching for a doctor. The government sets the fees paid to doctors according to a schedule of codes for 8,000 procedures. The cost is $60 billion. According to a recent report from the Center for the Study of Health System Change, just about half of all doctors said they had stopped seeing or limited the number of new Medicaid patients.

Other than a bunch of self-absorbed, power-hungry political hacks, who could possibly want to remake the entire American healthcare system in this image?

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