The Blog

Sebelius Says Ryan’s Plan Would Cause Seniors to 'Die Sooner'

12:56 PM, May 6, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services, lowered the bar of political discourse still further yesterday. Sebelius said that, under the proposed Medicare reforms authored by Paul Ryan and passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives, many seniors would have their voucher money run out and would either have to “scrape together charity care” or else “die sooner.”

Obama Sebelius

This, of course, is as ludicrous as it is uncouth. First, the Ryan plan (which wouldn’t affect anyone who is not yet 55 years old) would not give seniors a voucher, as Sebelius well knows. Instead, the government would provide premium support to help seniors purchase private health insurance. Seniors would pick the insurance plan of their choice, and the government would funnel the premium support directly to the insurer — just as it does for Medicare Advantage, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and the health care system for members of Congress.   

The Ryan plan would require insurers to cover any and all seniors as the condition of their being allowed to compete for seniors’ business. It would provide higher levels of premium support for less healthy and less wealthy seniors, and poor seniors would have every dollar of their care provided at taxpayer expense. The premium support would start at the average level of funding for traditional Medicare ($15,000 a year) and would rise with inflation from there.   

In truth, seniors would likely have better catastrophic coverage under Ryan’s plan than under traditional Medicare. There’s a reason why the vast majority of Medicare beneficiaries buy private Medigap coverage: There’s a whole lot of care that Medicare currently doesn’t cover. Despite that fact, Medicare is going bankrupt, and it desperately needs an infusion of private competition and choice to make it more efficient, cost effective, and affordable.

In short, seniors wouldn’t “die sooner” under Ryan’s plan. But Medicare would die sooner without it.

So what is Sebelius’s plan? It is the same, of course, as President Obama’s:  Ignore our $14 trillion debt. Ignore that under the president’s own 2012 budget, that debt would increase to $28 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Raid nearly $1 trillion from Medicare over Obamacare’s first decade (again, according to the CBO) and spend it on Obamacare. Then claim that this money that’s spent on Obamacare can be spent on Medicare, too. 

In direct defiance of the Obama administration’s Medicare chief actuary, Sebelius has made exactly that claim. (President Obama has not only implicitly endorsed the claim but has personally echoed it.) Moreover, she has made it very publicly, both in the official Medicare Trustees Report and in recent congressional testimony. In her testimony, Sebelius was asked whether the money “saved” from Medicare would be spent later on Medicare or would instead be spent on Obamacare. She equivocated a bit, and then answered, “Both.” Here’s the exchange. (It refers to an amount of $500 billion, but that’s only for Obamacare’s real first half-dozen years, according to the CBO.)

Let’s be clear: Our dire fiscal situation is being driven by mandatory entitlement spending. By the administration’s own account, mandatory spending alone will exceed total federal revenues this year. 

So what is the Obama administration’s solution? Raid nearly insolvent Medicare. Spend the loot on a massive new entitlement program: Obamacare.  Falsely claim that this money will nevertheless remain in Medicare. Release a budget that calls for $9.5 trillion in new deficit spending over a decade (according to the CBO) and which offers no serious entitlement reforms. Follow that up with a phony proposal that disingenuously claims a $4 trillion reduction in deficit spending but which would actually increase deficit spending by about $8 trillion — and by about $1 trillion even in relation to current law. 

To be fair, this administration does, in fact, have one thing in mind to control entitlement spending — or at least to funnel such spending out of current entitlements and into Obamacare: Obamacare’s unelected Independent Payment Advisory Board. The dictates of this 15-member board would have the force of law and, amazingly, could not be overruled even by legislation passed by majorities of each House of Congress and signed by the president. 

If this sounds not only horribly frightening but also clearly unconstitutional, it is.  The Constitution does not read, All legislative Powers herein granted shall be divided between a Congress of the United States and an Obamacare Independent Payment Advisory Board.

The only way out of our dire fiscal situation is through serious, sensible entitlement reforms. But this administration offers no such reforms. Instead, it offers only falsehoods, unconstitutional boards, and almost comically shameless scare tactics aimed at the elderly.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers