Obama’s reputation on Medicare is ‘unsustainable’

‘The U.S. government is not going to be able to afford Medicare and Medicaid on its current trajectory. … The notion that somehow we can just keep on doing what we’re doing and that’s OK, that’s just not true.”

These are not the words of Rep. Paul Ryan, the budget-slashing Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, but rather those of President Barack Obama from a news conference in June 2009.

Imagine, then, our surprise to hear the same Obama complain in his Wednesday speech that Ryan’s long-term budget plan “ends Medicare as we know it.” Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what Obama was implicitly calling for when he previously called the program “unsustainable” in its current form?

Obama’s speech Wednesday showed that he has changed a lot since June 2009. It was billed as a serious address on tackling entitlement reform, but turned out to be characterized mostly by its total avoidance of the subject. On Social Security, Obama explicitly ruled out every solution except for large tax increases. On Medicaid, he offered only meaningless rhetoric about “working with governors of both parties” to improve its efficiency. But nowhere was Obama so evasive as in his discussion of Medicare.

His statement that “the reforms we passed in the health care law will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion” has been flatly contradicted by the Congressional Budget Office. Once Congress passed the so-called “doc fix” — to prevent doctors from turning away Medicare patients because of the unrealistically low Medicare reimbursements assumed in Obamacare’s bottom line — that law became a net drain on taxpayers, not a vehicle for savings.

The only real Medicare reform measure Obama brought up in his speech was to “strengthen” the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the 15-member panel under Obamacare that has plenary authority to cut costs by halting expensive medical services for the elderly. Some hesitate to invoke the oft-misused and inflammatory “death panel” moniker the IPAB has been given, but it was not applied without reason.

Its existence explains in part the latest Associated Press poll showing that fewer than 30 percent of senior citizens now support Obamacare. If Ryan’s plan “ends Medicare as we know it,” how should we characterize a system whose unelected panel can simply cut off payments for treatment of the sick and old? When it comes down to it, Obama wants to “end Medicare as we know it” too. Or at least he did in 2009.


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