Sunday, June 26, 2011

The truth about Medicare? Really?

Originally published in the Bargain Hunter June 18.

A week or so ago, I received Rep. Bob Gibbs’ first taxpayer-funded quarterly newsletter.  I suspect most people in the 18th Congressional District gave it a passing glance and then tossed it in the rubbish.

However, I delighted in receiving the mailing because, well, I’m always looking for fodder. Rep. Gibbs’ mailer played right into my hands.

Gibbs’ Quarterly Update – that’s what he calls it – is headlined “The Truth About Medicare.” That got my attention. I’m always looking for truth.
The four-page newsletter also offered an index on the cover, including where to find an “Opening Message from Congressman Bob Gibbs,” “Protecting Your Retirement Security: Protecting Ohio Seniors and Securing America’s Financial Freedom,” “Medicare Fast Facts” and “Important Contact Information.”

In his opening message on Page 2, Gibbs wrote, “In 2010, you told the Washington politicians that enough is enough. No longer should our country continue to spend money we just do not have. No longer should we allow our country to travel down a course of devastating debt that will cripple the future of our grandchildren.

“The time has come to stand up to what Congress has done – and I am taking action.”
Gibbs goes on to say that he has taken on the challenge of moving the country from “destructive spending” and that he will help lead us to prosperity.

“As of now, the Medicare system is broken,” he wrote.
“…It’s time that you know the truth about Medicare and the budgetary proposal I and other congressional leaders are recommending to right the wrongs that have been done in Washington.”

He adds that the media has provided misinformation on the issue and invites constituents to contact his office.
OK, fair enough. Let’s learn the truth.

On Page 3 is a piece headlined “Protecting Your Retirement Security: Protecting Ohio Seniors and Securing America’s Financial Freedom.”
In it, Gibbs explains that the “plan is very simple.”

If you’re currently enrolled in the Medicare plan or if you’re 55 and older, you’ll see no changes.

But wait, you people who are 54 and younger, you might be in trouble. And this is where Gibb’s information gets a little dicey.

“The Medicare reforms will take place only for those who are 54 and younger. But rest assured that they, too, will receive the Medicare benefits they rightfully deserve. The Republican Budget Resolution will only change the manner in which they receive them.”
There’s a red flag. He refers to age 54 and younger people as “they,” switching from his casual use of the word “you” when addressing older people’s concerns.

He explains, “Rather than being given a ‘one-size-fits-all’ health care program, those who are 54 and younger will have greater input into which care plan best fits their life. Times have changed since Medicare was first instituted and with any new plan, we should give people the ability to customize health care to their needs.”
And then he says, “That’s it.”

Huh? What’s “it”? Where are the details?

Certainly the “Medicare Fast Facts” at the bottom of Page 2 would offer details.
“The failure to act now will bankrupt Medicare in nine years. Each year that Congress fails to act, the U.S. government gets closer to breaking promises to current retirees, while adding to a growing pile of empty promises made to future generations,” states the first “fact.”

But that’s not a fact. That’s an opinion.
Here’s the second “fact”:  “This budget puts an end to empty promises and political rhetoric, offering instead real security through real reforms for future generations. Under this plan, our grandchildren will inherit stronger programs they can count on when they retire.”

Nope. That’s not a fact either. That’s another opinion.
On Page 3 is a highlighted Bob Gibbs quotation (“I will not support any benefit changes received by current retirees…”) along with a picture of him receiving an award from the 60 Plus Assn. (which bills itself as the conservative alternative to AARP) for his work “to protect and preserve our Medicare benefits.”

OK, here’s the truth as I found it:

Gibbs is right -- there will be no changes for people 55 and over. But for those younger, the proposal calls for providing vouchers so a senior citizen can shop private insurers for the best guaranteed coverage options, whatever they may be.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that out-of-pocket coverage costs for seniors would more than double if and when the old program gives way to the new plan in 2022. In other words, Rep. Gibbs would like to see the sun set on Medicare as we know it and pass off a hefty part of the cost of the replacement plan to the next generation. Out-of-pocket costs could amount to $12,000 annually, according to the CBO.

Perhaps those people are too busy trying to figure out how to fund their 401(k) plan without a company match to pay much attention to a proposal that likely will have a profound impact on their lives in the next decade.
Politicians are always accusing the media of disseminating misinformation. I guess it’s OK when politicians do it in their taxpayer-funded newsletters. No one pays attention to those things anyway.

Dick Farrell is a contributor to the Bargain Hunter. You can access this column at You can read his blog at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

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