Opinion: Save Medicare from 'Build Back Better' threat. Seniors have earned it.

·3 min read

One in five Iowans are enrolled in Medicare, our nation’s health coverage for senior citizens (and some younger folks who are disabled). That’s just over the national average of about 19%. Nearly 18% of Iowans are 65 or older which places the state in the top third when all states are ranked by percent of population age 65 or older.

And our seniors depend on Medicare. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said when he signed it into law in 1965, “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”

That’s why it’s so important to shine transparency on President Joe Biden’s so-called reconciliation bill — the “Build Back Better” plan, or more appropriately named the Big Government Socialism Bill. The bill threatens essential elements of our health care system like Medicare, and negotiations are ongoing about including provisions that stifle life-saving research and development dollars meant for new cures.

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Doing these things will undermine Medicare’s fiscal health and threaten to collapse the system under the weight of its good intentions. Even now, without expanding Medicare, the Medicare trust fund will likely be out of money by 2026 — just five years from now. Expanding it will only hasten its insolvency, and that is a gamble that Iowa seniors cannot afford.

Yet, the damage to Medicare doesn’t stop there. Adding more people to the rolls will only swamp the system and crowd out the seniors who depend on it. As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial pointed out, “Many doctors won’t take Medicare patients because government payment rates don’t cover their costs.”

Congress is moving in precisely the wrong direction on this. The $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill (the companion to Big Government Socialism Bill) resumes a 2% cut to reimbursement rates (what we pay doctors and other providers), meaning that physicians will lose even more money for every Medicare patient who walks in. What’s more, an additional 3.75% pay cut for doctors is now being proposed.

“Health care providers cannot sustain additional cuts to the Medicare program,” the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, along with other groups, told members of Congress in a letter sent in July.

Provisions within the Big Government Socialism Bill aren’t complicated; it’s basic economics. An agenda that adds millions of people to the Medicare rolls and adds new benefits will drive up demand without addressing supply — the providers. That means our seniors here in Iowa will have less access to the care they need.

Finally, expanding Medicare and paving the way for its fiscal failure breaks a solemn promise made to Iowans and families across America. Although working families have been paying into the Medicare trust fund for as long as they’ve been working, many are now fearful that it won’t be there when they need it (the same is true of Social Security).

Supporters of the Big Government Socialism plan say that Medicare expansion is popular with voters. Well, sure, who doesn’t like “free stuff”? But they won’t support it when they learn that nothing is free — the tradeoff will be higher premiums, less access to care, fewer cures, and the closure of even more rural hospitals.

A recent poll found that “53% of voters believe it is more important to provide funding that would protect the existing Medicare program rather than expanding Medicare by adding new benefits.” Importantly, 64% of senior citizens said the same. Iowa’s elected leaders should listen.

Congress must shore up the Medicare system that has served our seniors so well. The first step in that is defeating the Big Government Socialism Bill.

John Wills
John Wills

John Wills of Spirit Lake represents Lyon and Osceola counties and a portion of Dickinson County in the Iowa House.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Opinion: Plan to expand Medicare would risk its solvency

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