Op-Ed

GOP budget plan reduces care for the elderly, poor

Nearly since the birth of Social Security and Medicare, these two successful programs have been under constant attack.

I remember so clearly in 2005 fighting against President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security and gamble seniors' benefits in the stock market.

Imagine what would have happened if seniors' benefits had been in the stock market during the 2008 financial crisis. Instead of learning from that experience, today our vital American programs are again under attack.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin recently released the new, very disturbing, Republican budget. To pay for tax breaks for billionaires and international corporations who ship jobs overseas, the budget makes drastic changes and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

So drastic, in fact, that the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal said the plan would "essentially end Medicare."

One out of every seven people I represent is on Medicare.

The new budget turns Medicare into a voucher system, ending the guaranteed benefits our seniors have earned. Today, Medicare directly pays most of the health care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, even if they are very sick. But if this proposal goes through, seniors will be forced to buy health care on the private market, leaving them at the mercy of insurance companies — just like they were 50 years ago before Medicare.

Especially after paying into the system their entire working lives, seniors should not be forced into a hostile insurance market with only a voucher that amounts to nothing more than a discount coupon and a get-well card.

If the Medicare changes aren't disturbing enough, the new budget takes on Medicaid, which covers services other programs don't, like nursing home care. Of the 700,000 Kentuckians on Medicaid, the plan would force nearly half of them off the program.

This budget could slash health benefits in Kentucky by up to $24.7 billion over 10 years, shortchange our seniors and shift the cost burden to our state, which is facing its own budget issues. Gov. Steve Beshear even spoke out against the new budget, saying that it could potentially force the commonwealth to slash health care benefits or raise taxes.

Right now, these changes in the budget only affect people who are currently under the age of 55. But, folks, this budget will eliminate Medicare as we know it, and it has already passed the House of Representatives.

Just like when Bush wanted to gamble away seniors' Social Security benefits before the financial crash, certain people in Congress are trying to do the same thing with Medicare. They are building America's house on sand.

This budget is not a solution to our fiscal problems. It does not put our country on solid footing. All it does is put our nation's debt on the backs of our seniors.

Yes, we absolutely must make reasonable cuts to get our fiscal house in order. But we can't just destroy Medicare to do it. Everyone who cares about the long-term health of these programs needs to come to the table to start talking about a bipartisan, moderate solution that fixes the cost issues, but also ensures that our seniors continue to receive the benefits they have earned.

Despite what you are hearing in the news, there are people in Washington committed to protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I fought to protect Social Security in 2005, and I'll do whatever I have to do to protect these programs in the future.

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