Sen. Coburn And Barrasso Aren't Trying To Save Medicare — They're Trying To Kill It

November 11, 2011 11:43 am ET — Jamison Foser

Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John Barrasso (R-WY) trade on their past careers as medical doctors to scare seniors with a nasty polemic against President Obama, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, dressed up as a "doctors' opinion" from concerned physicians trying to "save Medicare." In fact, the Coburn/Barrasso report is a political document, not a medical one — and a shameful display of politicians using their status as medical doctors to mislead seniors about Medicare.  

Coburn and Barrasso devote much of their screed to arguing that Medicare "is in worse financial shape than most people know" — so much so that it is "unsustainable." The senators offer "three main reasons Medicare is in such bad shape": "changes in life expectancy and demographics," "Congress expanded the program and financing has not kept up," and "because of the unpopular health care law that some members of Congress and the President supported." Coburn and Barrasso somehow failed to mention the actual "main reason": the rapid increase in health care costs over the past several decades. This chart from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, based on data from the Congressional Budget Office, tells the story:

Listing reasons for Medicare's solvency problems without mentioning the rising cost of health care is like telling a patient with a gunshot wound to the stomach that he's in pain because of the paper cut on his thumb. Coburn and Barrasso have so badly misdiagnosed Medicare's problems, it calls into question their stated goal of saving the program — as does the fact that in six pages of dense text, the "doctors' opinion" fails to include a single detailed prescription for fixing Medicare.

Maybe that's because the document's intended audience — America's seniors — would quickly see that Coburn's cure is worse than the disease. Coburn wants to raise the retirement age for Medicare, which might not seem like a big deal to a millionaire United States Senator, but which hits lower-income manual laborers much harder. He wants to cut Medicare and use the savings not to improve the program's solvency, but to pay for tax breaks for big oil companies. And Coburn and Barrasso want to replace Medicare with a voucher program, increasing out-of-pocket costs for seniors.

It's bad enough that Senators Coburn and Barrasso are misleading seniors about Medicare in order to destroy it — that Doctors Coburn are Barrasso are doing so is absolutely shameful.