About the only thing making a prescription drug bill even mildly excusable was a provision allowing for eventual competition between Medicare and private insurance companies.
Now, even this proposal is endangered.
In their pursuit of compromise with liberals and votes from the elderly, conservative Republicans are whittling down this provision of theirs to something barely noticeable, and Congress could be edging closer to catastrophe. Before this current session is done, we could have a new entitlement that is unneeded, unaffordable and potentially ruinous for both Medicare and the economy.
It has taken a lot of pretense to get to this pass.
There had to be the extraordinary falsehood, for instance, that massive numbers of old people were surviving on dog food because of prescription drug costs. The fact is that the average drug bill for the elderly is something less than $1,000 a year and that most in this wealthiest-of-all age group have supplemental insurance to pay for those drugs.
There are some poor elderly who are up against it, of course, and of course they should be helped. The cost would be far less than the $400 billion, 10-year cost of the current legislation, which would aim to make drug benefits available to all Medicare recipients, no matter what their income.
Medicare is already in serious financial trouble, and when you add this burden and begin to accommodate retiring baby boomers in the years to come, you are setting the program up for collapse. You are while also fostering runaway health-care costs. You may be making drug costs higher for some people while spending taxpayer money to do it. And you are contributing mightily to a deficit that should be going on a starvation diet instead of eating more desserts.
Ah, but there was this idea of private enterprise competition, which could conceivably help prevent a Medicare collapse, curb those runaway costs and keep that $400 billion price tag from being a gross underestimate. Now its proponents are proposing to try the idea in just a handful of metropolitan areas and to make its continuance after some years dependent on a further congressional vote. That's not reform enough to keep the bill from being a disaster.
The only hope for rescue now is that the bill will be killed by congressional liberals who cannot abide the possibility of private insurance plans having even that small a role in Medicare. Their thinking is ideologically truncated, but the consequence of the thinking could still be beneficial.