The New York Metro chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), an 18,000-member national organization, denounces the federal debt ceiling deal signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday.
“Politicians who say Medicare and Social Security are spared cuts are not being honest,” said Dr. Oliver Fein, Chair of PNHP-NY Metro. “Plans to cut these vital programs are simply being delayed until later in the year. Balancing the books by cutting programs that help the sick and the elderly is unconscionable.”
The Budget Control Act includes a 2% across-the-board cut to Medicare, which will be triggered automatically unless Congress accepts a budget reduction plan by a 12-member “Supercommittee” before December 23. Even if the panel’s proposal is approved, cuts to Medicare and Social Security are virtually certain in that plan.
“Instead of closing corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthy, the lawmakers are blaming people who need health care. If they were truly interested in lowering health care costs, they would deal with the elephant in the room: an unaffordable health care system bloated by the private insurance industry’s $400 billion a year of profits and administrative wastes. What would actually cut health care costs for everyone? Improving and expanding an efficient public program, like Medicare, to everybody,” said Dr. Fein.
Since Medicare has a 3% overhead, compared with 17-28% for private health insurance, advocates for a universal, affordable health care system have long pushed for a public insurance system based on an improved version of Medicare for everyone.
Dr. Fein added, “An effective social program like Medicare is not the cause of our economic problem; it is the solution. Medicare is a government-funded program that is much more efficiently run than its private counterpart. It prioritizes people’s needs instead of private profits. This approach is the basis for a healthy society, both physically and fiscally.”
Nothing is off the table for the upcoming “Supercommittee” that will propose a plan for the second round of cuts. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have traditionally been the prime targets of any such proposal. Deep cuts to Medicare could include shifting major costs to beneficiaries, 50% of whom earn less than $22,000 a year.
“People on Medicare see it as a lifeboat. My patients know that if they?re on Medicare, they’re safe. But now this is being threatened,” said Dr. Alec Pruchnicki, a geriatrician and Board member of PNHP-NY Metro. “What should be done instead is fix Medicare Part D and give the government the power to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies, the way the VA already does. That would save tens of billions of dollars.”
“It’s not only about what is in this bill, since so much is still up in the air, but the larger political environment that allowed the conversations surrounding this bill to be possible,” said Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal, a dermatologist and PNHP-NY Metro Board member. “Doctors have to advocate for their patients, and we can?t remain silent when the foundation of our social safety net is being dismantled. This is a life and death issue.”
PNHP-NY Metro is part of a large and growing national movement dedicated to protecting and expanding the country’s social safety net. Stakes have been raised substantially by the debt ceiling deal, and professional and grassroots groups working together are intensifying their organizing before the urgent deadline of December 23, before which Congress must vote on the second round of cuts.