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Reality Check on Medicare Legislation

February 19, 2004

For historical purposes, it is important to correct the misinformation being circulated about the recently enacted Medicare reform bill. President Bush is claiming it was bipartisan and that he is simply delivering what the American people want. But in reality there were enormous disagreements. Public-opinion polls show that Americans were split on the Medicare bill and a majority of seniors opposed it.

Politics in the "People's House"

When the U.S. House of Representatives initially voted on the Medicare Conference Report (H.R. 1)—at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 22—the result was 218-216 against the bill. However, because this was contrary to the Republican leadership's position, it stretched the period for voting, using the time to twist arms to get opposing Republicans to switch their votes. All told, the vote was held open for nearly three hours until the votes were switched.

Columnist Robert Novak reported that the Republican leadership was so desperate that President Bush was awakened at 4 a.m. (after just returning from Europe) to make personal calls to House members. Additionally, Republican opponents were threateningly told they were endangering their political futures. Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) said he had never experienced anything like it during his 11 years in Congress and 14 years in the Michigan legislature. He was even told that if he voted against the bill, his son, Brad Smith, would never make it to Congress. (His son is one of five Republicans seeking to succeed Smith, who has term-limited himself.) After Smith voted no, Republicans taunted him that his son was "dead meat," Novak reported. This is just one example of how contentious the Medicare reform bill was. Hardly a harmonious bipartisan issue! The final House vote was a bare 220-215 in favor.

Public-Opinion Poll Shows Only One-Third of Seniors Support Medicare Bill

What's more, a national survey conducted the week before the Medicare legislation was voted on found that 42 percent said it should not pass, while 40 percent said it should, and 18 percent had no opinion. Support for the bill dropped even more among seniors. Only 33 percent of respondents age 65 and over said Congress should pass the bill. We at the Institute for Health Freedom released three press releases during the debate to inform citizens of how Medicare reform could affect their freedom, privacy, and costs. We stressed:

  • The prescription drug benefit will increase government spending by $409.8 billion between 2004 and 2013, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

  • The CBO finds that income and payroll taxes will increase by $7.2 billion over the first ten years, and younger taxpayers will have to foot that bill. That increase is more than the $6.7 billion in tax breaks for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) that proponents are touting.

  • Citizens concerned about our nation's financial health should take a good look at the CBO's cost estimates for Medicare reform. The bottom line is that the proposed benefits of HSAs will be far outweighed by the incredible new tax burden that damages the economy and imposes an unfair burden on younger Americans.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2003 issue of Health Freedom Watch.