Editorial: Medicare's hard truths

  • Updated: June 1, 2011 - 9:59 AM

Courage, not scare tactics, needed to ensure program's future.

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Congresswoman-elect Kathy Hochul, D-NY, right, hugs Johanna Coleman, left, Lancaster Town Clerk, during a visit with supporters at a restaurant in Depew, N.Y., Wednesday, May 25, 2011.

Photo: David Duprey, Associated Press

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The 2012 election is 17 months off, but the first attack ad is already making the rounds. An eye-rolling video from a liberal group shows a man who looks like Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan pushing a wheelchair-bound granny off a cliff.

There's plenty more fearmongering to come following Democratic U.S. Rep.-elect Kathy Hochul's special-election upset in a deeply Republican district in upstate New York. Her recent victory confirmed that the nation now has something it does not need -- another political third rail.

Social Security has long been the issue so politically charged that few dared to bring it up. Medicare is now clearly untouchable, too. Hochul won with a laserlike focus on her GOP opponent's support for Ryan's controversial plan to convert Medicare to a voucher system.

Expect Democrats to take this winning strategy national in 2012. And expect the GOP to try to outdemagogue them as each party paints itself as Medicare's savior.

The reality is that neither party has a serious solution to Medicare's impending hospitalization fund insolvency -- estimates for which were recently pushed up to 2024, from 2029.

Ryan's plan would simply shift costs to the elderly. Democrats took small steps in the health reform law to rein in costs, but much more needs to be done.

Shared sacrifice is the only solution. Medicare enrollees are living longer and their care is more expensive. Paying for this will require more contributions from taxpayers, as well as from current and future enrollees.

Medicare also needs to root out inefficiencies, such as expensive new drugs and procedures that aren't any better than old treatments.

Telling these hard truths will require the best of both political parties. Both appear poised to deliver their worst.

This is dangerous short-term thinking that prioritizes 2012 election victories above the future of a program depended on by millions.

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