LINCOLN â€” If Republican plans to change Medicare from an entitlement to a voucher or â€śpremium supportâ€ť system are successful, â€śit will be harder and harder for seniors to get health insurance,â€ť Sen. Jack Reed told the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Monday.
Reed harkened back to the early 1960s, before the Medicare law was passed, telling the business group that, â€śwhen you would go to a friendâ€™s house and you would see at least one grandparent in the front room on a hospital bed, getting health care.â€ť That is what health care was like for senior citizens back then, he said.
â€śAsk yourself,â€ť Reed told the business group, â€śparticularly as the American population ages, how some people, many people, I would argue most people, are going to afford health care when they get to be 70, 75, 80 years old.â€ť
Medicare responds to what Reed called â€śa market failure. The market does not provide coverage for these people.â€ť
When he took questions, Reed was immediately challenged by Peter Adams, owner of Ocean State Printers in Pawtucket, who was advocating for smaller government and lower taxes.
â€śI would like my government to spend within its means to collect taxes,â€ť Adams told the senator. â€śI would like the government to stop taxing me, period. I am done with that, senator, I am taxed to death. I donâ€™t want to pay any more taxes in relation to the amount of money I have. I donâ€™t want the government coming up with more ways to tax me, locally, the state and the federal government. I would like the federal government and the state to live within their means, simple as that. Senator, I told you that 20 years ago, I told you that about seven years ago. This is the third time Iâ€™ve had to tell you. Iâ€™m done with bigger government.
Reed used Medicare to illustrate the question of what the size of government should be, noting that Republicans want to end Medicare as a way to shrink government.
â€śLetâ€™s shift it away from the government, weâ€™ll just give an $8,000, they suggest by 2022, voucher.
â€śThe question is,â€ť Reed said, â€śwhat do the American people want government to do? Personal responsibility is an important concept, but when you get to be 75-years-old and you have health care problems, you will not get private insurance. And you could be the most accountable person in the world; you could have worked every day of your life, youâ€™re not going to get it.â€ť
Asked afterwards if he was satisfied with Reedâ€™s answer to his question, Adams said, â€śNo, not at all. He was obtuse and he tries to scare people with Medicare. OK, you need Medicare, but donâ€™t throw that red herring out every time someone asks you shrink the size of government. He also said something else thatâ€™s not right, with regard to the entrepreneurial spirit. He wants to tax the profits so that you canâ€™t re-invest.â€ť
Adams didnâ€™t like Reedâ€™s ideas on taxing major corporations.
â€śHe mentioned Exxon, who made hundreds of billions of dollars, do you know how many billions they paid on taxes on employeesâ€™ payroll and everything they did and everything they bought? They paid billions and billions to operate, now you want to tax the little bit they have left?â€ť
Reed, Adams said, â€śthe senator is an expert on foreign policy and heâ€™s very engaged on many things and heâ€™s very, very smart. But he doesnâ€™t know jack about business at all.â€ť
After the speech, Reed acknowledged, â€śwe do have to do somethingâ€ť about Medicare, which experts say is destined to run out of money decades down the road if changes are not made. â€śAnd we have already taken steps on health care reform to provide, within the context of Medicare, more preventive care. We are also looking at ways going forward to reduce the cost of Medicare.
â€śOne of the problems with the Republican proposal,â€ť the senior senator said, â€śis just shifts the cost to individuals, it doesnâ€™t address fundamental cost increases. If we donâ€™t deal with the cost increases, just given the number of seniors, the demographics, weâ€™ll never be able to stabilize that budget.
â€śI hope what is going to happen is a more conscientious and thoughtful approach to ways we can reduce cost without affecting access to care for seniors,â€ť he said. â€śThatâ€™s the challenge.
Reed suggested that Medicare has been part of the American political landscape for so long now that people have planned their lives based on it being there for them when they reach 65 years of age.
â€śI donâ€™t know anybody who is in their 50s at least, individual workers, small business men and women who donâ€™t assume they are going to have access to a good Medicare plan. Thatâ€™s been the history of the country since 1965 and they have planned since they were in their 20s, 30s and 40s, to put money aside for retirement,â€ť Reed explained, â€śbut they werenâ€™t putting aside the extra hundreds of thousands you would need to buy private health insurance. So that would be a huge shock.â€ť
Besides that, he said, just given the natural aging process, â€śinsurance companies will not write insurance on you. So what do you do?â€ť That means people would have to go on Medicaid, he added, which is also the target of cuts.
â€śSo itâ€™s tough stuff,â€ť Reed concluded.