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Misleading on health care reform

Published on -5/10/2012, 9:45 AM

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This past week, my congressman's update on the federal health care law arrived in my mailbox. In small print under the return address was a note saying that the mailing was "prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense." The report and its disingenuous claims require further scrutiny.

Take, for example, his "fact" that President Obama's health care law raids $500 billion from Medicare. This sleight of hand assumes, maybe correctly, that many folks don't know the difference between Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare.

The Kaiser Foundation put out an excellent "fact sheet" on Medicare Advantage in November. Under these plans, seniors can opt to obtain coverage through private insurance companies. Twenty-five percent of seniors nationwide do so. The percentage of those in this age group in Kansas is 10 percent, a number less in rural areas. For a number of reasons, some having to do with administrative costs and others with benefits such as subsidized gym memberships these plans have become much more costly for the federal government.

The Affordable Care Act doesn't cut any funds from traditional Medicare (also known as original Medicare), which covers over 90 percent of seniors in the First District. All of the cuts come from Medicare Advantage. The impression left by the mailer that the Affordable Care Act guts Medicare is patently false.

The congressman then goes on to cite "non-partisan Congressional Budget Office" statistics that the law will cause Medicaid costs to increase $343 billion in the next decade. He conveniently ignores that the same CBO estimates that the Affordable Care Act itself will reduce our federal deficit by approximately $940 billion over the same decade. The CBO is either a credible source of information or not. Which is it, congressman?

He continues and criticizes the implementation of an Independent Payment Advisory Board to try to cut down the abuse of Medicare and set guidelines on what should or should not be covered. The board is patterned after the BRACC Commissions set up by former President Reagan and used successfully by successive presidents to depoliticize decisions on military base closures. The congressman claims that this provision of the law will "end Medicare as we know it."

Of course, nowhere in the mailer or any of his previous ones has the congressman explained or defended his vote last year for "Ryancare" -- Sen. Paul Ryan's proposal to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a voucher system. Given that the First District has one of the highest median ages of any congressional district in the country, many of his constituents likely would be interested in an explanation of their congressman's vote to "end Medicare as we know it." Ryan's proposal was so swiftly and roundly discredited that Senate Republicans protested vociferously when Majority Leader Harry Reid brought the bill to a vote in the Senate.

Manipulations of the facts continue. He again cites CBO statistics estimating that as many as 20 million people could lose their employer-based insurance, neglecting to mention that they would be shifted to other plans.

It would be nice to receive a mailing from one's federal legislator with the genuine intent to inform on what's happening in Washington. But the congressman's single-issue mailing here is nothing more than a campaign mailer at public expense. The cost of preparing, printing and mailing a fancy brochure on expensive card stock to every household in the district runs to nearly a hundred thousand dollars. The congressman's frequent rants about wasteful federal spending clearly don't extend to the unlimited franking privileges enjoyed by federal lawmakers.

The mailer includes a card with three questions that can be returned, making it appear he's interested in constituent feedback. One of the questions asks whether an individual approves taking $500 billion from Medicare to pay for the new health care law. If you don't understand the difference between Medicare and Medicare Advantage, and decide to return the card saying you oppose the cuts, you're ripe for another mailer soliciting a campaign contribution.

At least the congressman will have to pay for that mailing himself.

Alan Jilka is vice president of Jilka Furniture and former mayor of Salina.

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