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Medicare Commission Deadlocks

March, 1999

Although the federal Medicare Commission did not endorse any recommendation for change, Chairman John Breaux, a Democratic senator from Louisiana, says he'll take his plan to Congress anyway.

The commission was created by a 1997 law and charged with examining how to protect Medicare, which is projected to run out of funds as baby boomers reach retirement in 2011. Just before the Commission ended its meetings in March, President Clinton denounced Breaux's proposal and said he'd send his own reform plan to Congress. Clinton has called for expanding Medicare to include prescription drugs, and using part of the budget surplus to shore up the fund.

Breaux and allies had proposed a voucher plan for Medicare. Beneficiaries would be given a fixed amount to buy coverage from private insurers or from the traditional Medicare plan; the size of this voucher would be set as a percent of the average premium charged by Medicare plans, private and public. Thus Medicare would become part of the private insurance market (which has certainly been working well for the rest of us).

Senator Breaux calls the plan "premium support" since, according to political strategist David Kendall, "Everybody hates the term 'voucher.'" Breaux's staff admits that most of the savings they project would be achieved by a second part of their proposal: raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 years.

Now that Medicare has been in the news, and likely will be an issue in the fall elections, it's a good time to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Let them know what Medicare means to you and your family; explain that privatizing Medicare would divert billions of dollars away from health care services and into private profits; and of course, speak out for a national health care program that covers everybody.