LaborTalk for April 22, 2011

Obama's Plan to Allow Panel to Curb
Medicare Meets Bi-Partisan Opposition

By Harry Kelber

President Obama's new deficit reduction plan, that would give an independent board full authority to cut spending on Medicare, has met with strong opposition from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Obama wants to expand the power of the 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board. that would have the power to make sweeping changes in Medicare spending to reduce its costs, including the reduction of its benefits.

The plan has been met with opposition from almost all Republicans and many Democrats, who fear that the board would assume powers over spending cuts that are the responsibilities of Congress. Moreover, lawmakers are unwilling to entrust an independent agency with authority to make changes in Medicare, one of the nation's most important social programs, that serves millions of retired people.

Supporters of the President's plan say that an independent board would be able to make tough decisions to cut Medicare or reduce benefits, unlike politicians who, for political reasons, dare not.

Representative Paul Ryan, (Rep.-Wis), who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, said: Congress should not "delegate Medicare decision-making to 15 people appointed by the President." He added that under the President's proposal, the board could "impose more price controls and more limitation on providers, which will end up cutting services to seniors."

Both Parties Intend to Downgrade Medicare

Kathleen Sibelius, the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. said that an independent board would "ensure that health costs are reduced." She added: "The board might not have to take action if the President's other proposals slow the growth of Medicare spending."

The Medicare board members will each serve six-year terms and be paid a reported $160,300 a year. The White House has not published their names. But it is safe to say that Obama has not appointed any labor representative to the board. Nor is there any evidence that the AFL-CIO asked to be represented.

President Obama will be using his independent 15-member board as an escape hatch to avoid responsibility for the squeeze on Medicare funding that will leave millions of retired people without needed medical assistance.

The Republican response is even more threatening. It calls for slashing Medicare by 8.5 trillion dollars between now and 2050 by replacing it with a voucher system. Seniors will be left at the mercy of insurance companies, with only an inadequate voucher to cover their medical costs if they incur a serious illness.

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The AFL-CIO should not leave it to the independent board to make cuts in the funding of Medicare at their own discretion. This is a matter that concerns the health of every retired American and the millions of people who should receive Medicare benefits when they become eligible.

If there are countless billions to spend on two wars that have been funded for 10 years (and are still being funded), Congress ought to be able to find the money to keep Medicare intact and improve it.—Harry Kelber

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