McFeatters: Medicare wrong focus for cliff talks



Here’s the latest irony from the nation’s capital: Having lost the election, Republicans are demanding that the White House agree to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67.

Even though Medicare is predicted to be solvent for the next 12 years and we don’t know if the Affordable Care Act, when fully implemented, will extend that timeframe, the secret war going on in dysfunctional Washington is about reducing the number of seniors on Medicare.

When House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks for Republicans to argue that there will be no tax increase on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans without entitlement “reform,” that is what he means: cut the number of seniors eligible for Medicare.

Yes, it is true that Medicare is growing exponentially as baby boomers retire. Yes, it is true that changes are inevitable. That’s one reason why Obamacare requires that $716 billion be squeezed from Medicare by changing formulas for payments to doctors, hospitals and insurers — not beneficiaries.

The Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional, and Obama won re-election by a wide margin. But Republicans insist they don’t want to give Obamacare a chance to work before they begin dismantling the structure of Medicare.

A lot of Republican politicians don’t like Medicare. They have confused the issue so much that they won more votes from seniors on Medicare than Obama did because a lot of those seniors don’t realize that the secret GOP plan is to substitute Medicare as we know it with vouchers for private insurance companies.

That was Mitt Romney’s plan.

Romney may have been all but forgotten, but his plan to revamp Medicare lives on. Under his proposal, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 25 million seniors would pay significantly more if it were implemented. Among people 65 and older reporting income, the median was $18,800 in 2010, according to the U.S. government’s Administration on Aging.

There are many good suggestions for improving Medicare and making it more efficient and less costly. But a majority of seniors disagree that the first thing that should be done is to slam the door on seniors just becoming eligible.

Many Republican politicians also want to revamp Social Security to cut benefits to seniors even though Social Security is a separate revenue pot that has nothing to do with the national budget deficit.

This is the truth: The fiscal cliff, which means draconian cuts take effect and taxes rise on everybody on Jan. 1, is man-made by Congress. It is simple to resolve: Raise revenue and cut spending in a fair and honest way.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email: