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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Raising Medicare age

WASHINGTON – Americans are living longer, and Republicans want to raise the Medicare eligibility age as part of any deal to reduce the government’s huge deficits.

But what sounds like a prudent sacrifice for an aging society that must watch its budget could have some surprising consequences, including higher premiums for people on Medicare.

Unlike tax hikes, which spawn hard partisan divisions, increasing the Medicare age could help ease a budget compromise because President Barack Obama has previously been willing to consider it. A worried AARP, the seniors’ lobby, is already running ads knocking down the idea as a quick fix that would cause long-term problems. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., doesn’t like it either. More.

Raising Medicare eligibility age: Good idea or bad?

McMorris Rodgers: ‘I voted to save Medicaid’ with block grants


In defending her budget votes to a group of activists this week, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislators are in a better position to know what’s best for Medicaid, the program that provides medical care for low-income residents.

"I voted to save these programs," McMorris Rodgers said of her vote for a House GOP budget plan crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

But the budget plan she supported makes a significant change to Medicaid that Gregoire strenuously opposes. It would turn the federal share of that program into a "block grant", a lump sum payment.

"I remain strongly opposed to any congressional effort to impose Medicaid as a block grant program in Washington," Gregoire wrote in a recent letter to the Wall Street Journal. . .

Romney: Increase Age For Medicare, SS

Four days before critical primary elections, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney outlined a far-reaching plan Friday to delay Americans’ eligibility for Medicare and Social Security. Romney said the gradual shift, as people live longer, is needed to steer the giant benefit programs toward economic sustainability. Speaking to the Detroit Economic Club – in cavernous Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions football team plays – he also sought primary election support in Michigan, which votes on Tuesday along with Arizona. Romney said previous steps to toughen government emission standards had “provided a benefit to some of the foreign automakers” at the expense of American companies. He said future changes should be worked out cooperatively between government and industry/Associated Press. More here. (AP photo of Mitt Romney in Michigan Friday)

Question: Do you agree with the proposal by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to save Medicare and Social Security by increasing eligibility age beginning in 2022?

Otter: Gingrich Lobbied Me In 2003

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is among three GOP members of Congress in 2003 who say Newt Gingrich lobbied them to vote for a $400 billion Medicare prescription drug benefit. Otter told the Des Moines Register that Gingrich was "full of crap" in making a case for the bill. Still, Otter ultimately voted for the measure. Gingrich has repeatedly denied any lobbying and told reporters in Mason City, Iowa, on Wednesday that Otter and other accusers were wrong: "I'm allowed as a citizen to say I'd like to see this passed and that's not lobbying. I wasn't paid by anybody to say that. It was a public position I had taken for a practical reason…That was a public position taken publicly and is literally by definition not lobbying"/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP photo)

Question: Who do you believe?

Protesters could add to excitement at health care conference

The Washington Policy Center will do a reprise of its health care reform conference today in Spokane at the Red Lion Inn at the Park, complete with a keynote speech from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

The Seattle version of the conference was reported in this morning's paper. Something new for Spokane, however, will be protesters outside the conference demonstrating against McMorris Rodgers' support for the GOP proposal to change Medicare.

The group incorrectly describes the event as McMorris's "$500 a table event," with "her supporters." It's actually the policy center's event, and while many of the people in the room maybe McMorris Rodgers supporters, the money doesn't go to her.  It's also $200 for a table of eight; the $500 charge is for company sponsors who want a table for lunch, information packets and display space at the conference.

Details, details.

Bethany Heath, the organizer of the protest, said she thought it was still a fair way to characterize the event.

"We're not trying to go after her," Heath said, then proceded to discuss the votes McMorris Rodgers has taken in favor of the Ryan Medicare proposal and against the Affordable Care Act which suggested that yes, they were going after McMorris Rodgers.

It wasn't personal, Heath added. "I just don't like her voting record."

Smart Bombs: Price is Right

My Sunday column. Comment here.

From the comments thus far posted after the column, some points:

1. Yes, third-party payers drive up costs. I've yet to see the "free market solution" that drives up access. Costs are lower — much lower — in other countries with universal access. None of them have free-market systems. Most of the reforms I've seen retain the third-party system (you get coverage from employer, who gets it from insurers. They make deals on what will be covered). Government tax policy drives this system, yet it has avoided the moniker "government run." Drop the tax break and see how fast your employer drops your coverage.

2. Costs are going up because the boomers are getting old. Surely, that's part of it, especially as it relates to Medicare. But costs were going up before they reached that age. Why? Those same forces remain in place with the repeal of reform. In time, this boomer bow wave will pass. Think prices will go down at that point?




Harry Up and Wait?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, center, accompanied by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, left, and others, speaks during a Democratic health care rally Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Associated Press photos

WASHINGTON – Americans will feel the pain before the gain from the health care overhaul Democrats are close to pushing through Congress.

Proposed taxes and fees on upper-income earners, insurers, even tanning parlors, take effect quickly. So would Medicare cuts.

Benefits, such as subsidies for lower middle-income households, consumer protections for all, eliminating the prescription coverage gap for seniors, come gradually. More here.

Hmm…taxes and fees take effect quickly. Coverage for the uninsured not likely ‘till 2013. See anything wrong with this picture?

Update: Exultant Senate Democrats pushed President Barack Obama‘s landmark health care overhaul past a final procedural hurdle Wednesday, setting up a Christmas Eve vote to pass the legislation extending coverage to 30 million Americans.