Congress and the President are seriously considering a cut in Medicare benefits. There is no doubt that Republicans are itching to cut both Medicare and Social Security benefits. I will not be surprised if the proponents of cutting Medicare and Social Security as a means of reducing the federal deficit succeed – especially considering Obama’s and many Democrats’ willingness to cave in to the whacky right wing.
Propaganda blaming a growing elderly population for health care inflation and, consequently, a ballooning Medicare budget, is pervasive, and unquestioned. The mainstream media has bought, lock-stock-and-barrel, the narrative created by power-elite and conservative think tanks such as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Bipartisan Policy Commission, etc., etc. This narrative – i.e. all these old people are busting the budget – is, at best, based on ignorance. At worst it is an out and out lie.
As CBO research determined in 2008, an increase in the elderly population adds very little to health care cost inflation (see Technological Change & the Growth of Health Care Spending at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/89xx/doc8947/01-31-TechHealth.pdf). Furthermore, the so-called “Baby Boom” generation will not become eligible for Medicare instantaneously. Currently, the 65+ population comprises 13% of the U.S. population. This age group will gradually increase to 21% by 2035. The elderly population will level off at 21% and remain at that level into the foreseeable future (U.S. Census Bureau at http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/age/).
What you don’t hear on NPR, PBS, NBC, ABC or read in the New York Times, USA Today or in any other media outlet is this: the United States devotes approximately 17% of GDP and nearly $8,000 per capita to health care. The following GDP and per capita health care expenditures pertain to some other industrialized nations – none of which come close to spending what the U.S. spends: (1) United Kingdom, 9% GDP & $3,200 per capita, (2) Sweden, 10% of GDP & $4,000 per capita, (3) Spain, 9.2% of GDP & $3,000 per capita, (4) Japan, 10% of GDP & $3,000 per capita. Norway is the country that comes closest to the U.S. in per capita spending: $5,500 per capita. However, health care spending is only 10% of GDP in Norway. You can check health care spending in all advanced industrialized countries at http://www.oecd.org/document/16/0,3343,en_2649_34631_2085200_1_1_1_1,00.html.
All of the countries listed above – along with all other countries listed by the OECD – provide health care to all of its citizens, while 50 million U.S. citizens have no health insurance and at least 150 million are under insured or at the mercy of power health insurance companies that could terminate coverage under some pretense or other. Another thing happens in the U.S. that happens in no other country of the world: the U.S. Congress and the “medical industrial complex” collude to restrict competitiveness and reward corporate conglomerates.
Medicare has served as a conduit of U.S. taxpayer money to corporations such as G.E., Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Siemens (a German company that helped exterminate Jews during the Holocaust). As the eminent economist Dean Baker has indicated, health care in the U.S. operates outside of the basic free market concept of “marginal cost pricing.” The cost of an X-ray is not priced at what the next X-ray costs to provide plus a profit. The price of X-rays and all other medical services set by oligopolies in collusion with the government.
The elderly are not responsible for out of control government spending. Corruption in the U.S. Congress is responsible. It will be the poor and the middle class that will take the blame while the health care industry continues to reap the benefits.