Like relatives squabbling at a birthday party, President Clinton and Republicans marked the 30th anniversary of Medicare on Saturday by accusing one another of putting the program’s future at risk.
Surrounded by senior citizens, Clinton used his weekly radio address to charge that Republican congressional leaders were offering a fix for Medicare that would in fact put elderly Americans “in a fix.”
“We do need to protect Medicare from going bankrupt, but we don’t have to bankrupt older Americans to do it,” he said.
Clinton released a government study showing that 500,000 senior citizens would be effectively pushed into poverty because of higher health costs under the GOP plan. He said the money would be used to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.
Republicans continued their counterattack, claiming that Clinton had offered no plan to keep the Medicare trust fund from going broke.
Nevada Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, in the GOP response to Clinton’s address, said “there aren’t too many birthday celebrations left for Medicare unless we act now.”
“While President Clinton and many Democrats in Washington are content to celebrate Medicare’s 30th birthday by reminiscing about its past, Republicans are committed to securing Medicare’s future,” she said.
Medicare was born 30 years ago, when President Johnson signed a pillar of his Great Society program into law.
Today, it provides medical coverage for 33 million elderly and 4 million disabled Americans, making it one of the most popular government programs.
With Americans living longer and health-care costs rising, Medicare and its sister Medicaid program for the poor are the fastest-growing part of the federal budget. Trustees project that Medicare’s hospital fund will go broke in 2002 without corrective action.
The argument, then, is over how to slow Medicare spending and how quickly.
Clinton’s plan to balance the budget over the next 10 years would save at least $124 billion in Medicare spending over its first seven years by paying less to hospitals and doctors. He would not reduce health benefits, but would encourage older people to use less expensive managed care.
Republicans, who want to balance the budget in seven years, would save $270 billion over that period, reducing Medicare spending for both recipients and providers.
Both sides have been vague about the details of their plans, and have accused one another of using scare tactics to frighten the American people.
Pressed on why he hadn’t offered details of his plan, Clinton said he had at least laid the right groundwork and Republicans hadn’t.
“Any set of options I adopt, they will have to adopt more severe options,” he said.
Clinton sought to bolster his position with personal stories and new statistics. He was joined for his radio address by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and a group of supportive senior citizens, including his stepfather, Dick Kelley, and his mother-in-law, Dorothy Rodham.
Mrs. Clinton, returning to the health-care debate she had captained in earlier days, recalled that both she and the president had lost a parent to death in the past 2-1/2 years and added, “For all our worries, the one thing we didn’t have to worry about was a mountain of health-care bills.”
She accused Republicans of playing a “shell game” to hide their efforts to divert money from Medicare behind talk of stabilizing the trust fund.