Tonawanda News

August 7, 2012

CONFER: Final thoughts on 'Obamacare'

By Bob Confer
The Tonawanda News

— Back in May of 2011, Democrat Kathy Hochul pulled off a major coup, besting Republican Jane Corwin in the race for the 26th Congressional District seat that had been vacated by the resignation of Chris Lee. This was a huge victory for the Democrats, as the Republicans had held control of the 26th since 1968.

Political wonks across the nation claimed that Hochul’s upset was a statement against Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whom the Democratic National Committee had painted as someone Corwin would vote lockstep with. At the time, Ryan’s 2012 federal budget proposal called for a major overhaul of Medicare which would have transformed the oldster care from a guaranteed benefit program into a system under which care was provided by private insurers yet was funded by government subsidies. The voters feared for the program’s future – and theirs – and thusly showed their displeasure at the polls.

The Republicans did little to steer away the criticisms during the special election, nor did they call out the Democrats at their own game. It’s the latter which will come back to haunt them -- and a majority of Americans when they come of retirement age in the future.

Had the GOP not been so overconfident in thinking that the Democratic acquisition of the seat was unattainable – and had they done their homework – they would have realized that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which had already been signed into law a year earlier, will have a deleterious effect on Medicare recipients. They could have easily countered the Democrats by identifying their hypocrisy.

Their arrogance aside, the national Republican leadership obviously didn’t study the bill in detail before it became law, and it took them many more months to uncover the intricacies of “Obamacare”. We still see this to this day as Republican Congressmen and talk show hosts continue to unearth portions of ACA that they should have known about some time ago. Among them is the Medicare portion. They have noticed a gutting of the program; I’m sure you’ve heard presidential candidate Mitt Romney say that President Obama is taking $500 billion from Medicare.

Well, Romney, like the Democrats before him in 2011, isn’t being truthful.

The $500 billion statement is a stretch. Maybe that amount will be accumulated over time (as in 2 or 3 decades), but it won’t be in the short term. And, by short term, I mean 10 years out since that is the magical period that Democrats and Republicans (and the Congressional Budget Office) tend to focus on.

Maybe he got his numbers confused. The $500 billion is really close (well, at least when we’re talking in billions) to $455 billion, which is the total amount saved in reform of Medicare AND Medicaid over Decade One. Maybe in his mind, it’s, “Medicare? Medicaid? What’s the difference?” Regardless of this being a mistake or a purposeful bending of the truth, he’s wrong in both delivery and intent.

What Romney should focus on – and what the National Republican Committee should have focused on in the Corwin campaign – is   the fact that over time – like when I and my fellow Generation Xers hit Medicare age – having access to care will be a real struggle. Medicare recipients will be looked at as modern day lepers by health care providers because the ACA will be making it economically-unfeasible for a doctor or hospital to provide their services to seniors.

In recent years, when it comes to Medicare, the federal government has reimbursed hospitals at a rate of two-thirds what private insurance would have paid. Similarly, they paid doctors about 80% of what insurance would have. So, even today, providers are taking a hit.

That hit, though, will grow considerably over the next 70 years: Reimbursements will see a gradual downward spiral, bottoming out at a 39% rate for hospitals and 26% for physicians. As time goes on, fewer and fewer doctors will accept Medicare patients because it won’t be worth their time or money -- they can actually make a profit when dealing with the insured versus those on Medicare. Numerous surveys of physicians have found that anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of them are considering not accepting Medicare patients because of the ACA.

So, when my peers hit their 60s, there will be very few – if any - doctors and hospitals who will be willing to care for them. Without access to private care, the government will have to “save the day” and open public clinics and hospitals along the   lines of the VA system, but for aged civilians.

Hmm…maybe that’s been the plan all along. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Obama and his cronies.