Economy

Paul Krugman Decimates Jeb Bush's Medicare Delusion

Bush lives completely inside the conservative information bubble.

Jeb Bush's declaration that he wants to "figure out a way to phase out" Medicare last week—and his campaign's immediate lame back-pedaling— came as no big surprise to Paul Krugman. In Monday's column, Krugman takes a magnifying glass to Bush's "zombie idea" that Medicare is not working and that raising the age of eligibility is a good idea. "While raising the Medicare age has long been a favorite idea of Washington’s Very Serious People," Krugman writes, " a couple of years ago the Congressional Budget Office did a careful study and discovered that it would hardly save any money. That is, at this point raising the Medicare age is a zombie idea, which should have been killed by analysis and evidence, but is still out there eating some people’s brains."

Still, Bush and other conservatives have a way of completely ignoring facts and evidence that contradict their conservative ideology. As Krugman says:

The real reason conservatives want to do away with Medicare has always been political: It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful. But when they make their case to the public they usually shy away from making their real case, and have even, incredibly, sometimes posed as the program’s defenders against liberals and their death panels.

What Medicare’s would-be killers usually argue, instead, is that the program as we know it is unaffordable — that we must destroy the system in order to save it, that, as Mr. Bush put it, we must “move to a new system that allows [seniors] to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.” And the new system they usually advocate is, as I said, vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance.

The underlying premise here is that Medicare as we know it is incapable of controlling costs, that only the only way to keep health care affordable going forward is to rely on the magic of privatization.

Now, this was always a dubious claim. It’s true that for most of Medicare’s history its spending has grown faster than the economy as a whole — but this is true of health spending in general. In fact, Medicare costs per beneficiary have consistently grown more slowly than private insurance premiums, suggesting that Medicare is, if anything, better than private insurers at cost control. Furthermore, other wealthy countries with government-provided health insurance spend much less than we do, again suggesting that Medicare-type programs can indeed control costs.

Of course, if conservatives were really interested primarily in controlling costs, they might have noticed that the Affordable Care Act is doing just that, and its passage immediately brought about an "unprecedented pause" in Medicare cost growth followed by continuous lower spending. For those who live in a facts and evidence-based world, the program has demonstrated its sustainability already, in Krugman's view, it ought to have revolutionizes our views about government spending. 

But of course, none of this will penetrate the "conservative information bubble" inside which Bush makes his home.

Medicare is 50 years old this week. Conservatives have been warning that it will destroy American freedom for that entire time. Kind of a bizarre claim about a program that has been a lifesaver both financially and literally for many senior and their loves ones.

 

 

 

 

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