Tell the Truth: It's a New Entitlement
MediaNomics Guest Editorial, by Sue A. Blevins
Ever wonder how supporters of socialized medicine got
most seniors to give up their private health insurance
and join Medicare in 1965? They did it by adopting an
"incremental" strategy -- the same strategy that is being
used to establish government health care for children.
First, they argued that seniors were paying too much out-of-pocket
for their health care.
Next, they promised that Medicare would save the country
money by guaranteeing health care for all seniors at a
cost of only one percent of workers' payroll. However,
after Medicare was passed, the federal government garnered
enough muscle power to force private insurers to drop
seniors. The same thing could happen to children if KidCare
passes. That is why the media should cover these four
important issues related to KidCare:
Paving the road to socialized medicine. Documents
from the Clinton health care task force show that "KiddieCare"
was to be the backup plan in case the larger Clinton plan
failed. "The [Clinton Health Care] Task Force envisioned
that the national version [of health care] would be implemented
by January 1, 1995, with phase-in by population, starting
with children, and universal coverage achieved by January
1, 2000," reports the Association of American Physicians
Ironically, the Clinton administration failed to implement
its large-scale version of socialized medicine while the
Democrats led Congress, but with the Republicans in charge,
Congress is going to pass a scaled-down version of ClintonCare.
A brilliant political strategy. How is it that
moderate Republicans would support KidCare legislation?
They know that Americans don't want socialized medicine,
or any new entitlement program for that matter. It seems
they are merely caving into the Democrats' political strategy,
which goes something like this: "Let's propose to fund
children's health care with cigarette taxes. Then, if
Republicans oppose KidCare, we'll charge that they don't
care about children, and the only reason Republicans oppose
KidCare is that the party gets money from the tobacco
industry." This is brilliant political strategy. Yet,
the consequences will affect all taxpayers. Reporters
should go beyond the strategy and report the likely outcome.
Another entitlement program. Supporters of KidCare
stress that funding children's health care with cigarette
taxes does not constitute a new entitlement program. But
that claim is misleading. Any promise to pay for children's
health care with cigarette taxes is certain to become
an entitlement program. Here is why: A recent study by
the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) reports
that the number of smokers is sure to drop it has for
the last 30 years.
In fact, the share of Americans age 18 and over who
smoke has dropped from 42.3 percent in 1965 to 25 percent
in 1993. Clearly, that's good news for Americans' health,
but it also means that any proposal to pay for children's
health care with cigarette taxes would be making a false
promise to children. The government cannot guarantee an
adequate supply of smokers over the years to pay for a
children's health care program. In the end, all taxpayers,
not just smokers, would foot the bill. Reporters shouldn't
keep this from their readers and viewers.
Tobacco taxes are unfair. Tobacco-funded KidCare
policies discriminate against low-income and minority
populations. The NCPA study highlights these three facts
- Today, smokers are more likely to be blue-collar
workers, have less than a high-school education, and
be black, American Indian, or Alaska Native.
- Families making less than $30,000 per year pay
more than half of all taxes paid on cigarettes.
- Through combined federal and state taxes on cigarettes,
smokers already pay enough taxes to cover the net
costs they impose on society.
For those reasons, cigarette taxes are one of the most
regressive taxes even more regressive than taxes on beer,
wine, or gasoline. Thus, is it fair to make minority populations
pay higher taxes, when they are already paying for their
smoking- related costs to society?
Today's politicians understand the difficulty in rolling
back entitlement programs once they've been created. Democrats
and Republicans alike find it very difficult to reduce
the rate of growth of Medicare. And neither party has
developed a long-term strategy for financing the $200
billion-a-year Medicare program for seniors.
So why in the world, at this point in history, would
politicians want to create an entitlement program for
America's children? Politics, not sound economic policy,
is the only answer. Journalists should include in their
stories about KidCare those who object to this plan and
fear it could take us down the road to socialized medicine.
Sue A. Blevins is president of the Washington-based
Institute for Health Freedom.