The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Debacle

I was, am, and likely always will be a staunch opponent of the Medicare Prescription drug plan. It was an enormous boondoggle that no one who truly cared about fiscal responsibility could have supported, particularly given that we were — and are still — running an enormous deficit. Here are some of the things I wrote about the program back in 2002 and 2003…

July 24, 2003: Where’s The Responsibility?

“How can we possibly justify creating a massive program like this when we’re in the red especially when we know the costs of the program are going to explode when they hit the real world? Why don’t we have ANYONE in our government who’s responsible enough to stand up for the American taxpayers?”

Aug 9, 2002: Welfare For Seniors

“Keep in mind that we’re talking about legislation that will probably cost something like 50-60 BILLION dollars a year right off the bat. Furthermore, we know from experience with Medicare and Social Security that costs and the number of people covered by the program will explode in coming years. There is absolutely no one who can truthfully say that they’re for financial responsibility and keeping the deficit under control if they want this program to come to pass.”

June 30, 2003: Poll Numbers Show The Medicare Drug Benefit Is Great Politics, Even If It’s Terrible Policy

I could not be more opposed to the bloated, elephantine, prescription drug benefit that the GOP is gleefully helping to shove through Congress. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who votes for that monstrosity has lost the right to ever be taken seriously when they claim that they’re serious about reducing the deficit.

Furthermore, I know a lot of Conservatives, many of whom support this budget busting monstrosity, understand and agree with everything I’ve said so far. So why are they agreeing to sign on to this big government program that goes directly against the Conservative grain? I think these USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll numbers will explain it…

“…A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll over the weekend found that 76% of adults favor Congress’ move to spend $400 billion over 10 years to help seniors get insurance coverage for their prescriptions. Just 19% oppose the idea.”

Of course, there is a reason why I’m bringing all of this up. From the AP,

“Medicare’s new prescription drug program will cost taxpayers $720 billion over its first 10 years, with costs reaching $100 billion a year by the middle of the next decade, according to a new estimate by the Bush administration.

The new number is far higher than any previous estimate produced by the administration or Congress, but it reflects what lawmakers and health care analysts have known all along: As baby boomers turn 65 and swell Medicare’s rolls, the government’s tab for their health care is expected to rise substantially.”

Originally, the numbers for the Republican plan that were being tossed around put the total cost of the program at around $340 billion. Then, by the time it was done, the number was up to $400 billion. A couple of months later, the price had gone up to $534 billion. Today, we’re at $720 billion dollars (although that estimate runs from 2006 to 2015 instead of 2004 to 2013). My guess is that we’ll find that even that number is a low ball estimate within a few years.

Two things…

#1) Nothing that is happening with the Medicare Prescription drug plan is going to be a surprise to anyone who pays attention to how the government works. Government programs cost much more than expected, deliver less than advertised, and after they’re implemented, the public’s support for them is generally lukewarm at best…until you try to get rid of said program, at which time all hell breaks loose.

#2) What did the “small government” conservatives, who claim to be concerned about the deficit, get for selling out their principles to vote for this budget busting, big government welfare program for seniors?

Has this massive expenditure of our taxes actually lessened the concern Americans have about the cost of prescription drugs? No, in fact, politicians are already falling all over themselves to implement the next dumb idea that won’t solve the problem: importing drugs from Canada. Was the base happy about the Medicare Prescription drug plan? No. Has there been any great shift in the public’s view of who they trust on health care issues? No (These numbers vary, but for example: In a Newsweek poll from last October, the public preferred Kerry (56%) to Bush (34%) on “health care (issues), including Medicare”.

So what was the upside? An issue the Democrats could use against the GOP in 2004 was taken off the table. That’s it. Was that worth letting the Federal government sink its talons much deeper into our health care system and 700+ billion dollars? Hell no, it wasn’t…unless you’re a politician who cares less about doing what’s right for America than keeping your cushy job on the Hill…

PS: Given the tendency of Democrats to try to falsely portray themselves as budget hawks using this issue and others, it’s worth noting that although few Democrats supported the Medicare Prescription drug plan, their primary beef with it was that it wasn’t BIG ENOUGH. While the original GOP proposal was at $340 billion, the Democrats were lobbying for a $594 billion bill. Had they gotten their way, we’d likely be at trillion dollar plus over 10 years on the program right now.

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