Health care as a public policy issue again resurfaces as Republicans and Democrats spar over what measures to take to ease the federal budget deficit away from financial abyss. As elected Republicans and their party operatives tell it, the fix for our national debt is entitlement reform. Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed 2012 federal budget, called “Path to Prosperity” (for whom? one may ask), includes an extreme makeover of Medicare, scaffolded by such slogans as “freedom to choose,” “options,” and “market competition;” what any half-awake observer would call non-sequiturs when considering the factors that actually drive up the cost of medicine.
What is at stake in this debate is a prevailing assumption about the business side of meeting the basic need for physical wellness; one that few have dared to question. Addressing this assumption openly and honestly would force a confrontation with our values as individuals and as a nation. Very much unlike the approach to health care favored by Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe; writing in a draft-Paul-Ryan-for-president mode, they urged readers of The Wall Street Journal last week that, because of entitlements, America’s fiscal future hangs in the balance, and that “without substantial Medicare savings the budget cannot be balanced. Period.” Well, that settles it.
Rather, it’s classic scaremongering misdirection from a couple of fellas who must have nodded off to sleep over the last ten years; while a Republican-dominated Senate, House and White House pushed through a series of unpaid-for tax cuts and borrowing for two wars, vaporizing what was once a federal budget surplus at the beginning of 2001. The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently confirmed what actual numbers comprise the bulk of the staggering federal deficit. As of 2009, two thirds of the $1.4 trillion well of red ink came from the Bush tax cuts, war borrowing, TARP and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Not a whisper of reconsideration otherwise will you hear from Republicans bent on dismantling entitlements. And, oddly enough, not a word about the health care crisis afflicting the middle- and working classes; that is until Democrats in Congress finally plastered together enough votes last year to pass the ultra-mediocre Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act . Like a smothered echo of Obamacare, Paul Ryan’s budget scheme pantomimes concern about health care access and affordability, yet leaves the well-oiled health insurance industry untouched and intact.