Strong-Arming Seniors Will Be The Death Of Medicare

By Pat Boone And Jim Martin

Only in Washington could a supposedly self-funded government program that’s operating in the red and facing insolvency walk away from an opportunity to save billions of dollars.

Yet that’s exactly what Medicare, the health care program for seniors, is doing: shamefully ignoring an opportunity to save billions by forcing retirees who want to pay for their own medical coverage to accept Medicare.

So insistent is Washington that all seniors enroll in the financially ailing government program that Social Security Administration officials have said that anyone who refuses will be denied their Social Security benefits.

This is an outrage.

In late March, the Medicare trustees told us just how sick this program is. In 2007, the total bill for Medicare was $432 billion. Next year’s expenditures are expected to exceed $500 billion – one-sixth of the entire federal budget, excluding the recently passed financial bailout package. These costs will spike in coming years as the 77 million baby boomers retire and start drawing benefits.

The system, in short, is a catastrophe. That’s why Washington continues to crack down on expenses by limiting reimbursements to providers, and why providers have been abandoning the program. If honesty were the coin of the realm we’d call this rationing, but Washington rarely calls anything by its real name.

To meet its obligations, Medicare will have limited options: It can cut costs by limiting the services available to enrollees (rationing); it can cut costs by reducing payments to providers; it can increase premiums, or it can dip into tax revenues, the direction it’s going now.

But with the financial bailout Congress recently passed, the economy in the tank and the ratio of workers to retirees decreasing (that is, fewer workers paying payroll taxes and more retired workers drawing benefits) the money isn’t there.

You would think Medicare officials would be happy that some small percentage of those eligible for benefits would want to “opt out.”

Instead, they are forcing them in – threatening, according to a lawsuit filed recently in Federal District Court in Washington, to deny Social Security retirement benefits to any senior who refuses to sign up for Medicare or withdraws from the program.

If just 1% of retirees choose not to participate in Medicare, costs would decline by about $1.5 billion in the first year, increasing to $3.4 billion a year by 2017 and even more every year after that for decades to come as the “boomers” age. All Americans should be outraged that Washington would use coercive policies to force people into a supposedly voluntary program.

With 44 million people enrolled in Medicare today and baby boomers moving into the system in 2011 – when those born in 1946 will become eligible – the situation only gets worse.

Allowing individuals to forgo Medicare without fear of losing other benefits is the only reasonable option.