Let's see if we've got this right.
First, by all indications the Medicare Part A Trust Fund is headed down the path of financial ruin, facing bankruptcy sometime during the next decade. Experts say the trust fund will become insolvent unless taxes are hiked, the retirement age is raised or a serious means-testing system is implemented.
Second, the era of Big Government is over. Scaling back federal spending, tightening entitlement programs, balancing the budget and providing tax relief are the order of the day.
Third, President Clinton is parlaying high popularity ratings, a strong economy and a possible budget surplus to reconstitute important parts of his half-baked healthcare reform package as well as a $22 billion child-care plan.
But President Feelgood's proposal to expand the Medicare program to hundreds of thousands of early retirees, laid-off workers and uninsured Americans between the ages of 55 and 65 is a stinker that deserves no serious consideration. In fact, this trial balloon should be viewed for what it is -- as a strategic step in creating a single-payer healthcare system.
While most business groups oppose government-controlled healthcare, some companies may view Medicare expansion as a bailout from their historic responsibility to provide insurance benefits to older employees and early retirees.
In the scheme of things, providers should find limited employer mandates more palatable than a single-payer system. Certainly, something needs to be done about the 40 million Americans lacking health insurance coverage. However, expanding a government program on the verge of bankruptcy is not the proper medicine.
Clinton promises the expansion plan will pay for itself after five years and the $3 billion in start-up costs can be financed by recouping money fraudulently spent on Medicare. Does he ever tire of riding that horse? Entitlements always end up costing big money, and the healthcare fraud trail is not endless. If his plan were adopted, higher taxes, subsidies for less affluent Medicare newcomers and/or reduced benefits surely would follow.
Instead of placating liberal Democrats and throwing the Republican leadership into a defensive political tizzy, Clinton should prod the newly named bipartisan Medicare panel to recommend ways to save the hospital trust fund. Here's a clue: Raising the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 is more prudent than lowering it to 55.
As influential local employers, hospitals and health systems should lead the way in providing insurance benefits to their workers. Those who support private-sector solutions and fear Big Government must assume responsibility and the price of leadership.