July 30, 2015 marked the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing Medicare and Medicaid into law. They were the crowning achievements to LBJ’s Great Society programs designed to eliminate poverty, improve education, and ameliorate racial injustice. House Budget Committee Chair and Georgia’s Sixth District Congressman Tom Price wrote an op-ed published today in IJ Review addressing their viability and the need to preserve them moving forward. Some excerpts:
For about as long as there has been a Medicare or Medicaid program, there has been a vocal opposition to anything approaching a solution that might improve the programs or make them financially sustainable. It is counterintuitive, but favoring the status quo – which is unsustainable and harmful to beneficiaries – is actually considered politically safer than trying to save and strengthen these programs. Then again, common sense has never been particularly popular in Washington.
After all, federal spending on health care – Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare – consumes nearly $1 trillion each year right now. In the years to come, it is projected to approach $2 trillion annually. By 2040, auto-pilot spending on the nation’s health, retirement and economic security programs will account for 76 percent of total expenditures. In other words, Congress will have little to no control over three quarters of the government’s budget – which is phenomenally disconcerting in its own right.
Medicare and Medicaid are fifty years old today. If they were American workers, by the time they’d reach retirement age, Medicare would be insolvent.
Many of my conservative friends complain about the country’s $18 trillion national debt, and the estimated $100 trillion of unfunded liabilities. They encourage Congress to do something–cut spending, audit government programs, eliminate foreign aid, and whatnot. Most millennials I talk to don’t believe Medicaid or Social Security will be around when they need them.
Since the GOP took over the House in 2010, discretionary spending has been cut. Conservatives should be proud of that, but should also realize that without fixing entitlements, the spending and debt problem isn’t going to get solved. Yet, there’s no real support for reform from the grassroots of either party. When Paul Ryan proposed changes to Medicare funding, those on the left responded with this, and the Republican base offered no pushback.
At a time when Americans go ballistic over a dead lion, maybe it’s time to consider taking some of that energy to support reforms that can get the country out of the financial bind these entitlements have caused.