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Do Reps. Bachmann and Paulsen want to privatize Medicare?

Sigh. If you’re just joining the fairly annoying insult to honest discourse that I mentioned the other day:

The Democratic National Committee has been running a TV ad accusing Republicans in general and 10 members in particular (including Minnesotans Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen) of wanting to “end, “abolish” and “kill” Medicare. found the ad to be untrue and I agree. Republicans did attach a policy statement to their alternative budget resolution proposing that Medicare be turned into a voucher program where future retirees would be given federal funds with which to purchase health insurance. Although this would be a fairly radical change in Medicare, it would not “abolish” it.

The RNC was able to convince Time-Warner that the ad was false, and they pulled it off the air in five of the markets in which it was running (but it remained on the air in Minnesota and other markets not served by Time Warner).

The Dems say they will “tweak” the ad to deal with Time Warner’s objections, according to DNC Midwest Spokester Frank Benenati and expect to have it back up by tomorrow. Benanati declined to divulge exactly how the tweaks would change the ad, but did say that DNC does not believe the ad was false, disagrees with FactCheck’s harsh review, and said (although I’ll believe this when I see the new ad text) that the new ad would absolutely continue to assert that the Republican plan is to end, kill and abolish Medicare.

All of that strikes me as partisan overhype. But I will say that I was previously unaware of the Repub plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. This is a large, daring, radical idea, perhaps on par with former Pres. Bush’s idea of partially privatizing Social Security. I always go out of my way to refer to Bush’s plan was a “partial” privatization, because his proposal would have diverted only a portion of social security into optional private investment accounts. But as far as I can tell, the plan for Medicare in the Repub budget proposal could fairly be termed a total privatization or at least voucherization of Medicare. The basic idea is that when Americans who are now 55 and younger turn 65, instead of traditional Medicare (under which the government pays directly for seniors’ health care expenses), the new seniors would get an amount of money, roughly equal to what a typical Medicare recipient gets, but would use that to shop the marketplace of private insurance plans. The amount would be adjusted to reflect the age, health and income of the recipient.

I suspect that if the Dems would describe the plan more accurately, they could still scare the hell out of America about what the Republicans are proposing.

So it occurred to me to wonder whether everyone who voted for that Republican budget document (which, of course, covers almost everything the federal government does) necessarily favors the idea. So I asked the spokesters for the two Minnesotans targeted by the DNC, both whom voted for the budget document, whether they fairly the Medicare voucherization idea contained within it.

The results were disappointing. Michele Bachmann released a statement that didn’t commit her to the idea, although spoke respectfully about it, but that was a profile in courage compared to Erik Paulsen who has declined to respond despite repeated requests and waiting several days for a statement.

Bachmann spokester Dave Dziok sent his statement on behalf of his boss:

“At this point in time, I can tell you it’s an option, among others, that needs further study and consideration as we figure out the best way to implement the program for future generations.”

But after several requests for an answer from Paulsen going back to last week, Paulsen’s office has not been willing to say whether he supports the Repub Medicare proposal, even though he voted for a document that contained the proposal.


Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 09/15/2009 - 12:25 pm.

    How is this at all relevant? This is Eric and the Dem’s diverting attention from worthwhile issues. Who has the majority in the house? This idea regardless of merit wouldn’t make it to the House floor for a vote, let alone through the Senate. Must be more “cutting though the B.S.” Ctrl C Ctrl V

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/15/2009 - 01:36 pm.

    Joe, I wonder if they make spelling a prerequisite to vote in the 6th district.

    “Stalking” is a term used to describe unwanted attention by individuals.

    “Stocking” is sometimes referred to as hose, is a close-fitting, variously elastic garment covering the foot and lower part of the leg.

    All snark aside, You do have choices. It is called the World Wide Web for a reason. Do you write WSJ, FOX news and various talk show pundits about their particular content or editorial slant? If that is not the case then you can always change the station, change website or radio dial. I think its called freedom of choice…..

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/15/2009 - 01:38 pm.

    The real distraction is making proposals that would effectively eliminate Medicare while keeping the name.
    Even if these are left field ideas that would never even make it to a vote, they shift the discourse and leave proponents of real Medicare reform shooting down Boojums instead of dealing with the real issues.

    And Joe; the word ‘relevent’ requires an object.
    Relevant to WHAT?
    Healthcare reform?

  4. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/15/2009 - 01:57 pm.

    Here’s a tipped up beer to all 3 of you. Joe, Eric is taking your side a bit, do look a gift horse in the mouth here and you will see some rotteness from both sides. Mr. Black is getting after the truth. Now go eat some carrots guys I’m worried about your vision.

  5. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 09/15/2009 - 02:00 pm.

    Sorry about the spelling, I crackberry far to much. Paul relevant to anything, take your pick, any story would better inform the people. Getting this bill out of committee is an impossibility until at least 2010. Richard as long as my tax dollars continue to subsidize Minnpost I will continue to argue its slant. If the true goal is to better inform the people, we would not see this story or the Rep Bachmann stalking. Minnpost is the ACORN of journalism.

  6. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/15/2009 - 02:26 pm.

    Scaring seniors? Most are old enough to see through the fog, so it depends…

    Will the “public option” be the same plan congress has for itself and federal employees?

    If so (one can dream, can’t one?), I suspect most seniors faced with the growing cost of Part B, the increasing premiums for “Medicare Supplement” insurance, and the premiums and big holes in Part D would cheer this option into reality.

    Would the “new” arrangement look good, but be subjected to the same payment-reducing process that Medicare has already been through years ago?

    If so, those seniors who can remember the seventies will be pretty skeptical;

    and those who don’t remember but know how politicians work when they are shown to have grievously underestimated costs would also give it a cynical eye;

    and those neither older nor cynical would still be hesitant to switch.

    None of them would be scared, though, knowing that with AARP watching a bad deal for seniors would not make it out the door.

    Which reminds me — why is no dem eager to spell out the details of the “public option?” It seems to me if the CBO can cost it out, they must have some idea of what it would pay for and what the premiums would be, don’t you think?

    Good news it typically trumpeted, bad news kept in the closet. So I wonder if it could be this is bad news.

  7. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/15/2009 - 02:32 pm.

    Reflecting on Paul’s comment:

    It WOULD be a silver lining could be found in getting rid of the huge Medicare deficit.

    No reform would be needed: just abolish a plan that is not working, replace it with a new plan that will not work, declare victory and go home.

    Perhaps, after years of no payments I would see my first Medicare payment appear on my accounts.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/15/2009 - 03:54 pm.

    First, remember that the AARP is an insurance company.
    Second, most people on Medicare are happy with it; surveys show that Medicare is rated higher by those served by it than are insurance companies. Not profitable is not the same as not working.

  9. Submitted by Eric Black on 09/15/2009 - 04:25 pm.

    Joe, just let me respond to the basic question or challenge you pose.
    The Republican Party is one of the two major parties. As the loyal opposition, they stand ready to take over control of the government if they win control in an election.
    Part of their job, while in opposition, is to lay out the alternative vision they would pursue if they were voted in. This is all to the good and how things should work.
    If the Repubs have a big idea about how to change Medicare (and, as you know, I don’t believe it should be described as abolishing Medicare) then they should describe it, own it, advocate it and defend it, which they did, to some degree by attaching it to their budget alternative.
    Good on them.
    I think it is close to the height of responsibility, journalistic and otherwise, to ask our own Republican members to stand behind it, defend it and advocate for it. Or, if they disagree with the idea, they can say that, since we don’t have strict party discipline in our system.
    Anyway, it wasn’t my greatest piece, but I’m proud to have raised the question. Switching the topic to your view of my bias is a red herring. I’m fairly open about what I think.

  10. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 09/17/2009 - 12:04 pm.

    Joe / Eric,

    I know I’m late to the coversation, I just returned from vacation, but since when are our tax dollars supporting MinnPost? I thought its support came from memberships, foundations and advertising.

  11. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/17/2009 - 01:01 pm.

    Another lousy right-wing idea. At present, Medicare premiums are deducted from the Social Security checks of everyone who turns 65 and becomes automatically enrolled in Medicare. Medicare then pays 80% of most billings, leaving a gap of 20%.

    Medicare recipients are then free to choose from among the many and varied private insurance “gap” plans, which pay part or all of the remaining 20% (usually part).

    We are also free to choose from among the 100-plus drug plans that are entitled to sell drugs at 100% of retail, courtesy of the Republican Congress that forced the dastardly privatization of Medicare part D through Congress instead of just adding a drug benefit (with negotiated prices) to Medicare and saving billions upon billions of dollars per year in both taxpayer dollars and seniors’ in extra-high premiums, copays, deductibles and donut hole purchases.

    Please no more efforts to “help” seniors or anyone else by privatizing programs that DO work but which would no longer work economically or, in the case of Social Security, at all.

  12. Submitted by Eric Black on 09/17/2009 - 01:17 pm.

    Thanks Sheila,
    I, too, am unaware of what Joe meant about his tax dollars supporting MinnPost. MinnPost does not receive any direct aid from any level of government. Member contributions to MinnPost are tax-deductible, just as contributions are deductible to charities, churches and vast array of not-for-profit organizations. Perhaps that’s what he means.

  13. Submitted by Bill Krause on 09/17/2009 - 03:45 pm.

    “Member contributions to MinnPost are tax-deductible”

    That’s exactly what he means, and you clearly knew that.

    Eric, maybe if you hadn’t worked for an organization whose former members admitted that they were pressured to be flacks for the Democrats, and then migrated to an organization that clearly is cut from the same cloth, you might have gotten a response from an opposition Congressman.

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