President Obama keeps torturing himself and the 111th Congress by trying to come up with new ways to work together and a single healthcare reform effort that all could embrace politically, morally and fiscally. He need not struggle so hard, as the leaders in each of the groups clamoring for leadership on the issue have stated unequivocally that they love Medicare and want to protect Medicare.
Good ol' Medicare. Publicly funded, privately delivered healthcare in America. More than four decades ago, Medicare was extended to seniors and just a suggestion of diminishment of any Medicare benefit to seniors sent leading Republicans into a dither as the Tea Party participants backed them up. "Hands off my Medicare," they oft cried through the summer town halls that gave rise to the protector/defender status of the Republicans who simultaneously sold the idea that government-run healthcare equals evil things while government- administered Medicare equals protection of grandma and grandpa's hard-earned healthcare plan.
From the Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2009, "After years of trying to cut Medicare spending, Republican lawmakers have emerged as champions of the program, accusing Democrats of trying to steal from the elderly to cover the cost of health reform."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, in December 2009 said on the Senate floor as he defended Medicare, "They are going to pay for this plan by cutting Medicare, that is cutting Seniors, and raising taxes on small businesses."
And on the House side, as reported in by The Hill in October, "The House health reform bill would ‘virtually eliminate' Medicare Advantage, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) alleged Friday.
"The top House Republican argued that the cuts to Medicare in the House bill unveiled Thursday are so steep that it practically does away with Medicare Advantage, the popular program in which government benefits are administered through private plans."
Or how about RNC chair Michael Steele writing in the Washington Post in August 2009, "The Republican Party's contract with seniors includes tenets that Americans, regardless of political party, should support. First, we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of "health-insurance reform." As the president frequently, and correctly, points out, Medicare will go deep into the red in less than a decade. But he and congressional Democrats are planning to raid, not aid, Medicare by cutting $500 billion from the program..."
Disingenuous or not, the Republicans do not want to own even an ounce of senior rage for cutting their beloved Medicare access. Seniors whose benefits are threatened are seniors who vote.
How about the Dems? And even their bluest of Blue-blooded Dogs?
Folks may remember the Blue Dog conservative-minded Democrats in the House holding up progress on the House reform bill until assurances were made to correct what they felt were unfair provider reimbursements in rural areas for, you guessed it, Medicare patient services.
NPR reported on Feb. 5, 2010, "In the House, the 10-year cancellation of doctor payment reductions was included in the broader overhaul bill after Democratic leaders cut a deal with the fiscally conservative ‘Blue Dog' Democrats. The deal was that that portion of the bill wouldn't have to be paid for as long as the House passed a separate bill to ensure that no future spending would be passed without offsetting spending cuts or increased taxes."
Even the Blue Dogs know that patients with Medicare and voters with a health plan they like, and Medicare provider rates ought to be fair too. Blue Dogs like Medicare, and they know that Medicare is consistent with fiscal conservatism and re-election. That's a good combination for them.
So what of the lefties? Well, many of the more liberal-leaning members of Congress have urged support for expansion of Medicare for some time. Even in this current debate, for several brief, shining hours, some members argued that allowing those 55 years of age and older to buy in to Medicare would be a great way to handle that difficult to insure and sometimes more in need of health services population.
Remember? Just a few weeks ago, when the "public option" folks were hitting rough waters in the Senate, the idea to expand Medicare wafted forward. Again, from the Washington Post, on December 11, 2009, "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed a proposal Thursday that would allow people in late middle age to buy insurance through Medicare, helping to sustain an idea that sprang unexpectedly from the Senate this week."
It was dashed rather quickly when Sen. Joe Lieberman expressed disagreement, though, but for many, expanding Medicare was a logical way to move forward for those 55 -64 who often cannot purchase insurance, find jobs willing to extend them coverage, or avoid losing a whole life's worth of savings and retirement security during the few years prior to current Medicare eligibility age.
Don't any of our leaders read and feel the common thread here? It's Medicare. Let's say it again. It's Medicare. Since 1965. Made in America, Medicare.
Medicare does not foist on an unwilling nation a system of government-employed doctors and government-owned providers. Medicare simply provides coverage - publicly funded, healthcare coverage that cannot be lost. The Medicare patient retains full control of where and from whom to seek care.
From the left: public funding. From the right: private delivery. In the center: patients with healthcare. Medicare for all.
If seniors are willing to protect their right to have Medicare with the ferocious energy we saw this past summer, and if Republicans recognize that well enough to claim they want to protect and defend Medicare, and if Democrats know that Medicare has been a cornerstone of social policy and justice for more than four decades, and if even the Blue Dogs understand that Medicare is so good it ought to pay fairly in rural areas and urban areas, then how far is the reach to bring everyone together and make the Medicare program work for all?
The bi-partisan, everybody in, nobody out solution has been there all along. All that remains is watching which true leader will step up and claim the victory for all.
And oh, by the way, 124 more Americans died today because they lacked access to healthcare. They added to the 124 that died yesterday and the day before and will be figured in the 45,000 this year whose lives will be sacrificed because we did not yet recognize the answer that has been before us all along.
Perhaps if we begin assigning blame for those deaths on those who have failed to act to prevent them, the Medicare for all solution will seem even more appealing. The framework is already in place, no new bureaucracy to be created, and lives saved in every Congressional district and state - Red state, Blue state, or anywhere in-between. It's the right thing to do.