Congress should rethink Medicare with cooler heads

Freedom Newspapers

So far as we know, there’s no precedent for a court invalidating a law because it was based on false or deceptive premises (perhaps because that could put half the laws on the books in jeopardy).
But Congress really ought to consider rescinding the Medicare prescription drug benefit law it passed and revisiting the issue with honest numbers and cooler heads.
The prescription drug benefit, for which the White House did a full-court press to gain passage last year (it was mostly conservative Republicans who needed the arm-twisting), has been troublesome since it was enacted. The administration estimated it would cost $395 billion over 10 years. Republican legislators swallowed hard and grumbled a bit, but most finally decided that if the White House wanted it that badly, they’d hold their noses and go along.
Almost immediately, however, a “revised” estimate came from the administration, suggesting a cost of $550 billion. Then Richard Foster, Medicare’s top financial analyst, told a House panel that his best estimate last June was that the new legislation would cost about $600 billion over 10 years.
Administration officials were aware of the higher estimate, Foster said, but his boss, then-Medicare administrator Thomas A. Scully, threatened to fire him if he shared that estimate with anybody else.
Just to cap things off, last Wednesday the Medicare actuaries estimated the program hospital insurance “trust fund” will be exhausted in 2019, seven years earlier than forecast last year — largely because of the new legislation.
All this suggests irresponsibility, dishonesty and perhaps outright lawbreaking on the part of a Republican administration. It should be noted, however, that if the Democrats had their way, the new program would be even more expansive, and the date for bankrupting the system would be earlier.
Congress should void the recent law and come back to the issue — perhaps after election day, when it will be two years before most have to face the people again — with a modicum of fiscal and actuarial responsibility.