Dr. Strangelove

Hacker, Jacob S.
June 2003
New Republic;6/23/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 24, p11
Last week when Senate leaders announced they had agreed upon a bipartisan compromise for Medicare reform, Majority Leader Bill Frist insisted that the new proposal "meets all of the president's principles that have been laid out to date." Nothing could be further from the truth. When George W. Bush unveiled his vision for Medicare reform during January's State of the Union address, he was intent upon transforming it from a government-run insurance program into a system of competing private insurance plans--with prescription-drug coverage doing the dirty work. Basically, older Americans hankering for drug coverage would have a choice: Leave Medicare to enroll in a private health plan, or get no drug protection whatsoever. Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley, eventually came up with the scheme announced last week, under which Medicare beneficiaries who remain in the traditional program could get the very same drug coverage as those who opt for private coverage. In other words, Grassley and his colleagues ended up rejecting Bush's most fundamental reform principle. Yet, this week, Bush signaled that he'd sign the bill anyway. Nearly 80 percent of Americans support delaying the 2001 tax cut to pay for Medicare prescription drugs. Under the new compromise, the federal government would contract with private insurers to offer drug coverage rather than provide the benefit directly. So, while senior citizens wouldn't have to leave government-run Medicare to obtain drug protection, they would still have to get the drug coverage itself from a private insurer.


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