Friday, September 10, 2010

qotd: Fiscal Commission wants price signals for Medicare?


About the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

President Obama created the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to address our nation's fiscal challenges. The Commission is charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run. Specifically, the Commission shall propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015. In addition, the Commission shall propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.

The Commission will meet as a whole once a month while Congress is in session. The Commission will vote on a final report containing a set of recommendations to achieve its mission no later than December 1, 2010. The final report will require the approval of at least 14 of the Commission's 18 members.


September 9, 2010
Republicans Dominate Medicare Discussions On White House Fiscal Commission
By Brian Beutler 

The White House's fiscal commission has become a target for progressive activists in large part because a number of reports and public statements indicate that the panel will recommend benefit cuts to Social Security.

But the commissioners are also grappling with another sensitive entitlement program: Medicare. For a number of reasons, the commission is farther from consensus on Medicare than it is on Social Security. But the ideological conservatism of the Republicans on the commission -- and, indeed, of the commission as a whole -- combined with Democratic fatigue over health care reform mean that the center of gravity of discussions is tilted to the right.

"[B]asically you've got some Dems saying they don't want to jump back in the [health care reform] pool, so you've mainly got Republicans swimming in there on their own," says one source familiar with the commission's proceedings.

"There have been some discussions about cost-sharing. There have been some discussions about Medi-gap policies," the source says.

At a staff level, this source says, the feeling is that "there needs to be more skin in the game and people need to pay more...the whole argument that people don't understand how much health care costs and are wasteful."

"A lot of discussion on the commission has been that people need to get better price signals and be smarter shoppers," the second source said. "And that is very, very worrisome."

Comment:  Apparently President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is considering changes to Medicare that would make beneficiaries "smarter shoppers" by adopting innovations that would require them to pay more out of pocket for health care.

Considerations include reducing or eliminating Medi-gap policies, increasing deductibles and coinsurance, and using vouchers that would establish financial incentives to choose more Spartan private plans.

Although the commission theoretically is politically balanced, all of the Republican members are right-wing conservatives, and the Democrats are split between progressives and deficit hawks who would rather reduce government spending than increase tax revenues. If you check the list of commission members (available at the fiscal commission link above) it is difficult to identify with certainty the five members necessary to block these deleterious "consumer-directed" policies.

Single payer supporters are already finding some resistance from colleagues to the "Medicare for all" label, especially with the continued failure to resolve the SGR (sustainable growth rate) issue. Although we speak of an "improved" Medicare, that distinction is not always clear and certainly would not mean much when holding up a further handicapped Medicare program as a model of reform.

Should the commission end up making these outrageous recommendations, hopefully the 310 million of us would respond by insisting that Medicare be protected and improved, as opposed to latching onto former Senator Alan Simpson's infamous milk cow.

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