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COLUMN archives back to April 26, 1999

TRANSCRIPT & COMMON GROUND archives back to July 2007

It's our money, give it back!

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PRESIDENT CLINTON SAYS that if Republicans get their way on tax cuts, women will suffer more than men. He knows about suffering women. He's been responsible for inflicting pain on legions of them.

In a shameless attempt to persuade those soccer moms to submit to him one more time, the president said of Medicare that "women especially need it.'' One of the few things on which Republicans and Democrats agree is that Medicare needs fixing. Yet pouring good money after bad isn't going to do it.

The rationale for Clinton's statement was a conveniently available study by a women's advocacy group, The Older Women's League, which found that, because women on average live longer than men, they rely more on Medicare. All the more reason to fix the system by allowing people to choose which private health plan they would prefer. That may be about to happen.

With the attention given to the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., the press missed what could turn out to be the cure for what ails Medicare. A U.S. Court of Appeals on July 16 overturned a lower court ruling and guaranteed the right of older people to contract privately for Medicare services, free from government interference.

The case is the United Seniors Association (USA) vs. Shalala (Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala). USA filed the lawsuit, claiming that Section 4507 of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 unconstitutionally harmed seniors because it prevented them from privately contracting for certain health-care services by requiring doctors who perform such services to agree not to treat any Medicare recipients for two years.

Prior to the lawsuit, seniors had little control over their own health care, and doctors feared that providing certain services to Medicare recipients might get them in trouble with the federal government. For example, one Medicare patient desiring a physical exam and checks for such things as diabetes was prohibited from receiving the simplest of laboratory tests. Doctors were fined $10,000 each time they violated Medicare guidelines. The unanimous court decision will now allow Medicare patients to freely contract with their doctors for these basic services.

Medicare is broken because of bureaucratic mismanagement and lack of competition. Under the system forced on seniors and their doctors, a doctor was forbidden to freely give his or her Medicare patients health-care services if that doctor believed the secretary of Health and Human Services would, or even might, determine such services were not "reasonable or necessary.'' What if the doctor felt, under his or her professional standards of care, that those services were reasonable and necessary to the patient's health and well-being? Too bad. The doctor had to obey the government.

With abortion, the decision is to be left between a woman and her doctor. With Medicare, the "proper'' treatment would be decided by a bureaucrat, not a doctor.

Nothing will change unless there is an outcry. If people don't mind the government taking up to half of what they make to be used as government wishes, government will continue to grab our money and give us only what it thinks we need. (Didn't we just recently defeat a system that believed "from each according to his ability, to each according t his need''¿) If we continue to believe that government will always send us a check from one or more social programs and so we don't have to save and invest wisely on our own and for our own, government will continue to do that, too. The choice is liberty or dependency -- but we have to choose.

The Medicare and tax debate is about power. At his last news conference, the president said, "If we don't save Social Security ... it will be because we choose to reward ourselves today by risking our prosperity tomorrow.'' He's talking about our money. It doesn't belong to him or to government.

This rhetoric is about issue positioning for the next election, not care. No one will ever care for you more than you. And no one can take better care of you than you. Republicans are trying to make this case, but they're being drowned out by the media and by a president who not only doesn't respect women he pretends to care for but also has no respect for the rest of us, either. If he did, he wouldn't lie so much, not only about Medicare and taxes, but about anything else.

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