Eric Cantor comes clean

Talk offers clear glimpse into party differences on both Medicare and health care reform

Speaking yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that people should get the health care they they can afford to pay for, and that Republicans are “not for everyone having the same outcome guaranteed.”

It’s like a breath of fresh air to read a politician’s remarks which so clearly illustrate the differences between our two major political parties’ approaches to both Medicare and health care reform. In a separate statement, Cantor confirmed that the House will push ahead with its plan to privatize Medicare for those age 55 and younger.

Cantor cuts through the bull that the Medicare vouchers would allow future seniors to buy similar medical coverage in the private market, and for clarifying that we applaud him. It’s cynical fiction that the voucher plan would “save” Medicare.

Cantor takes as a given that rationing of health care is our future, and he may be right. But he puts his reliance in the private sector to do that rationing rather than the government. We don’t agree. America’s private health delivery system has worked like crap for the under 65 crowd, and will be even worse in dealing with older people, who tend to need more of it.

Note that we said “delivery” – not care. Medical science does a bang-up job on extending our lives. True, Americans die younger than people in most other countries, but some of that can be chalked up to more stressful, less healthy lifestyles and lack of preventative health services that citizens in other countries take for granted.

Left to market forces, insurance companies would only offer their products to healthy people, drop those people when they get sick and deny care to those who are left. We’d see pretty much the same abuses that led to last year’s hallmark health reform legislation, and a scenario that blind devotion to free enterprise champions.

The Medicare system – if not our entire health care system – needs to be fixed. But the voucher-deep social Darwinism that Cantor’s party prescribes is an ugly future in which to live. It’s a future where if you are a retiree of modest means, and your number comes up in the cancer lottery, you likely die. I don’t offer that as hyperbole. The ideas the GOP offer up only deal with limiting the amount the government pays and are devoid of ideas to break the cost curve on medical expenses. If those costs continue to accelerate and vouchers stay flat, the vouchers will eventually amount to a mere Band-Aid on the problem.

Fixing the Medicare system is much tougher than abandoning it as the vouchers do. As a society we may need to look at increasing the payroll tax that funds Medicare, putting limits on coverage (yes, rationing – an unpleasant topic but perhaps worthy of an adult conversation) and means testing that would push the most successful in our society out of the system.

Let’s face it, those with money always have access, and as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker “with great power comes great responsibility.” If your tastes don’t run to comic books, Jesus of Nazareth put it this way: “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Time for the Boomers to shoulder the burden and make Medicare solvent for us AND for those coming after us.

Cantor professes to be for a social safety net, yet we puzzle as to what his definition of it could be. Much like the famous “voodoo economics” of the 1980s which led to the present-day fiscal crises, the Medicare voucher plan offers a temporary financial fix that will give America a much bleaker future.