In something of a reversal, Republicans in 2009 cast themselves as the protectors of Medicare. President Obama's healthcare reform proposal foresaw savings from Medicare being used more efficiently. Republicans called these cost savings "cuts," began to grandstand on the issue, and prompted the infamous "Government hands off my Medicare!" signs that became a symbol of the Tea Party. Obama was going to slash Medicare and Republicans were out to save it.
[Rick Ungar, Forbes, September 2010:]
Despite the 'doom and gloom' predictions you may have heard, the proposed savings in Medicare are designed to come from two sources; (a) a crackdown on Medicare fraud, estimated to currently cost the federal government as much as $60 billion per year and (b) a reduction in what is paid to the Medicare Advantage programs offered by private insurance companies.
If you need a simpler explanation, Reuters had it. "There are no cuts to the traditional Medicare benefit," they reported. "The lion's share of spending cuts are in Medicare Advantage -- a program that uses private firms such as Humana and UnitedHealth Group to deliver Medicare benefits."
Less government money going to private entities -- OK, now you see the problem Republicans had with it. They weren't "protecting Medicare," as they claimed. They were protecting that sliver of privatization of Medicare that they'd finally managed to introduce. The Defenders of Medicare were merely defenders of tax dollars going to private corporations. In other words, GOP business as usual.
And those people marching around with the "Government out of Medicare!" signs? They got played. The GOP had no interest in saving Medicare -- or any other entitlement program. Dismantle and privatize had been the plan, will always be the plan, and was the plan at the time.
And, now that the chumps voted for the Medicare-saving Republicans, the party rewards them with a bold plan to dismantle and privatize Medicare. Associated Press reports that the GOP's budget guru -- Ayn Rand devotee Rep. Paul Ryan -- has a plan to cut $4 trillion in spending. And a big part of that is through privatizing Medicare.
Speaking broadly about the proposal, Ryan said it would include: a "premium support system" for Medicare, the government health program for the elderly. In the future, older people would choose plans in the marketplace and the government would subsidize those plans. Ryan said that would differ from the voucher system he has proposed in the past. Those 55 and older would remain under the present Medicare system.
Ryan acknowledged that the "premium support system" would shift more costs to Medicare recipients, especially those he called "wealthy seniors." He did not define at what level someone would be considered wealthy.
See, this is what privatization always does -- shifts costs from the government to the consumer. It's a cheap parlor trick; you wind up paying less as a taxpayer, but more as a consumer. Taxes are rejiggered as prices and, when all is said and done, things get more expensive, not less.
None of this should surprise anyone. Government can do something for cost -- it's a nonprofit. Private insurers need cost-plus-profit. You don't have to be a math whiz to know that x+y results in a figure larger than x. Want government out of Medicare? OK, but that means you'll pay more. But that's all right, because the entire United States -- government and taxpayers -- is just a support system for the very rich.
Besides, those government savings won't translate to tax savings anyway. You'll pay the increase in price and keep your tax rate. Haven't you heard? We're broke. If we pass the savings on to you, that means we can't keep the tax giveaway to the top 2% or that 2/3 of corporations are going to have to start paying something in taxes. No, we'll just save the government money by shifting that burden on to you as a consumer. And, in the meantime, a bunch of big corporations will be making a lot of money.
So, can we count on the same people to break out their signs again, now that the GOP has gone back to wanting to cut Medicare?
I think that's doubtful. Those are low-information people -- if they weren't, they wouldn't have fallen for the GOP line in the first place. As much as the two messages -- save Medicare and cut Medicare -- are contradictory, they'll swallow that contradiction without batting an eye.
They're teabaggers, cognitive dissonance is what they do.