By Mike Stephens
Former CEO, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian
Mercifully this year's political season came to a close with the November elections. American voters again proved they preferred slogans over substance as they elected representatives who were long on rhetoric but short on substantive solutions to the intractable issues facing our country. For those who campaigned on an agenda of “taking back our government” – that would be the tea party movement – let’s consider a dose of reality as it relates to government health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid.
To take something back, it has to first be taken from you. Medicare was passed into law because of the inability or unwillingness of the private sector to provide an adequate health insurance benefit for elderly retirees. As in many other instances, government entered in as the insurer of last resort.
In reality, tea party politicians have no appetite to reduce the cost of Medicare and in turn alienate the core of their political support. So we will hear a great deal of political doublespeak, but little will happen. If you believe privatizing Medicare is the solution, simply examine what Medicare Advantage, the private alternative to government run Medicare, has proven. It shows that you can provide a greater number of Medicare benefits without any additional cost to the insured, increase payments to health providers and have a popular and more expensive alternative.
So what about Medicaid, that federal/state health insurance program for those deadbeat welfare recipients who burden our economic system? The reality is Medicaid provides health coverage and nursing home support for the impoverished elderly, health and social benefits to the blind and disabled, and coverage for children in low income homes.
I serve as the chair of the board of a Medicaid managed care plan. While those in the aged, blind and disabled categories represent roughly 30 percent of our membership, they account for 70 percent of our medical expenses. If you are going to attack this program, realize it will impact the most vulnerable of our citizens, not just those on welfare.
I recall someone commenting that the less our elected representatives learn, the more they know. In other words, they think they know everything. So let me suggest they take some time to learn about the realities facing them before lapsing into the standard political jargon. To the image of tea party politicians as the patriots dumping overboard tea at the Boston tea party, let me suggest another vision. How about the Mad Hatter running to the Alice in Wonderland tea party.
Isn't it about time that tea party members deal with reality?