Sticking with what works when it comes to Medicare
by Douglas E. Schoen
Apr 24, 2013 | 1947 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Democratic and Republican Congressional budget plans proffered by House and Senate committee chairs must be viewed more as acts of political theater than serious fiscal roadmaps.

Even though symbolic votes have taken place, neither plan has a chance of passing the other chamber or becoming law.

Making moderate spending cuts while preserving key pro-growth investments in job creation, infrastructure, health care, and education is critical.

However, getting the calculus right requires necessary balance and making a point to replicate what's already working. In many ways, this is the key to moving beyond symbolism and ideology in our governing process, and enacting legislative proposals that the American people can really get behind.

Consider the example of Medicare, which will be a focal point in every budget debate for the next several years. There are ways to drive cost savings in Medicare while delivering high quality health care for seniors and those with disabilities.

This has already been tested and proven under the newest major part of Medicare: the Part D drug benefit, which provides prescription drug coverage to millions of seniors and disabled Americans. It relies on private sector competition, has a 90 percent approval rating among seniors and is on track to cost $340 billion less during its first 10 years than originally forecast.

And that's one major place where I've seen problems with various proposals in recent weeks: some of them are focused on gutting Part D. While this often constitutes a talking point both in Washington and on the campaign trail, Republicans and Democrats would be wise to recognize the political value of sticking with what works in Medicare.

Turning it into a voucher system, despite significant savings over time, isn't the solution as millions (especially those under 56) will be negatively impacted.

Baby boomers already in retirement and those about to turn 65 are by most accounts paying closer attention as Medicare dominates political news cycles.

The same governing principle also applies to the need for comprehensive fiscal and budgetary reform, as well as an overhaul of the tax code to reduce rates and minimize or eliminate deductions.

All should happen in a balanced fashion, but Americans will reward those policymakers who address our nation's fiscal challenges head on without going overboard and pursuing policies that will result in greater economic uncertainty.

This will be increasingly important as the job market continues to improve and the economy finds its footing.

In aggregate, the Democrats' vision presents a more practical approach to the country's future. But members of my own party should take into account the importance of striving for balance, without disrupting what's already working.

For both parties, offering a sincere, realistic and innovative vision for how we drive cost savings will send a signal that Washington is serious about enacting common sense reforms.

Five months into the new campaign cycle and with the economy beginning to turn around, this can't be discounted.

Douglas Schoen is a political strategist and author of Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What it Means for 2012 and Beyond, published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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