MY VIEW: Gene Steuerle

Urban Institute Fellow and CRFB Board Member Gene Steuerle points out the great confusion in the recent Medicare debate. Both President Obama and Governor Romney are accusing each other of seeking to cut Medicare to the great loss for seniors.

However, if both candidates are going to be fiscally responsible as they have promised, then health care spending, especially spending in Medicare, must be constrained. Both should and do seek to cut Medicare, but the disagreement is how to do it to minimize the pain. Steuerle writes:

Both presidential candidates claim to save money on Medicare without cutting benefits.  President Obama says his reforms “will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending…that won’t touch your guaranteed Medicare benefits. Not by a single dime.” Meanwhile, Governor Romney promises that his “premium support” plan will save money while still providing “coverage and service at least as good as what today’s seniors receive.”

But politicians aren’t the only ones dispensing that free-lunch rhetoric. Even highly respected journalists and researchers get pulled into it.

Consider two New York Times stories. After the first presidential debate, Michael Cooper, Jackie Calmes, Annie Lowrey, Robert Pear and John M. Broder said that President Obama “DID NOT CUT BENEFITS by $716 billion over 10 years as part of his 2010 health care law; rather, he reduced Medicare reimbursements to health care providers.” A few days later, David Brooks cited an AMA study of a premium support plan put forward by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, saying that “costs might have come down by around 9 percent with NO REDUCTION IN BENEFITS” [cap emphases mine].

Can you see what is going on? Politicians, reporters, and experts all recognize that cost growth must be brought under control. But they also want to suggest that benefits won’t be reduced—if only we go with a particular approach.

Steuerle argues that there is no magic bullet. There are many ways to make health care spending more efficient, but if were are going to contain costs we are also going to have to make some tough choices.

Ferreting out the truth in this Medicare debate also requires looking beyond health care. Benefit losses in health care must be contrasted with benefit gains elsewhere. Yet even health care will likely be much worse if we continue to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars more from unfriendly nations and let excessive debt inhibit economic growth.

Bottom line: both parties favor cutting Medicare benefits, or, more accurately, slowing down the rate of benefit growth. The issue isn’t whether but how this can best be done.

The full article can be found here.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.

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