Having seen them play all year, I can understand why Chicago Bulls’ fans want another superstar to join Derrick Rose. Having watched American Idol, I can understand why that show’s fans wish that Simon Cowell had never left. And having studied Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposal for overhauling Medicare, I understand why the majority of seniors want “Their Medicare” to stay the way it is. But the Bulls don’t have room under the salary cap to land another superstar, Simon Cowell has launched his own show, and, with its finances in peril, Medicare will never be what was. Those ships have sailed.
We tend to be realistic about these transitions. Bulls’ management doesn’t pretend that the next Michael Jordan is just a trade away, and fans remain hopeful that a lesser star will be good enough. Fox Television doesn’t claim that Simon Cowell is coming back so viewers are getting used to Steven Tyler. Would that we were that realistic about Medicare. But on May 23rd, when Kathy Hochul won a special election to fill a Congressional seat in a traditionally Republican district, all hopes of a realistic debate about Medicare went out the window. That night, Democrats learned that allowing seniors to cling to the myth of “Their Medicare” is a big vote getter.
This week’s Reuters/Ipsos poll tells the tale. A slight plurality of all respondents oppose Ryan’s overhaul. But more importantly, given their outsized impact on election politics, a solid majority of seniors are opposed, despite the fact that all current Medicare beneficiaries, and anyone who enrolls before 2021, would continue to receive “Their Medicare.” Perhaps seniors see this as the thin end of the wedge, with further tampering to follow. That is certainly what Democrats want them to see.
But seniors seem to be looking with their eyes wide shut. Ryan’s proposal addresses a budgetary mess of gargantuan proportions. Thanks to that mess, “Their Medicare” is no longer an option. Under Democratic management, seniors are going to see a very different Medicare well before Ryan’s plan would kick in. Provider fees will be slashed and access will be compromised. Costly new technologies will be scrutinized and some will be unavailable. Seniors will be shunted into ACOs, only to discover that they seem awfully like the HMOs that they once dreaded (perhaps unfairly.) I wonder what Reuters/Ipsos would have discovered if they had posed this scenario as the stark alternative to the Ryan plan. Maybe next time.
Early in the Harry Potter series, we learned that wizards can kill with a wave of their wands, but try as they might, they cannot bring the dead back to life. Democrats can kill Ryan’s plan with demagoguery, but they cannot give seniors back “Their Medicare.” Why do we let them pretend otherwise?