It was nine years ago this month that the good folks of Georgia's then-10th Congressional District saw fit to send me to Washington to represent their interests and to take Georgia values and commonsense to Capitol Hill.
Before I took the oath of office that January, I made a promise to the people I serve. In each election that followed, ultimately covering 50 counties across Georgia, it's a promise I've kept and principle I've held.
The promise is simple: I will never support legislation that creates a completely open-ended entitlement, for which no one knows the ultimate cost, and then passes the check on to our grandkids.
Four months ago, I wrote to you regarding a bill being debated by the House of Represent-atives the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003 (H.R. 1). I voted against this measure because I was deeply concerned with its ultimate cost. I had held out hope that the bill would be improved in the joint House-Senate Conference. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. In the past few days, the House and Senate have considered and passed the final version of that bill... and in keeping with the promise I made to all of you, I simply could not support this legislation.
he fact is, Congress owed America and our seniors a good Medicare bill a bill that strengthens Medicare, ensures its solvency for future generations, and provides a reasonable and workable prescription drug benefit. Unfortunately, the bill that passed in Congress is not such a bill.
Don't get me wrong, there are portions of this bill that are very good. For example, ensuring that healthcare in rural Georgia and America is adequately funded is a chief concern I've held since being elected. And this bill takes big steps towards fixing that problem. Also, the idea that folks should have greater control over their healthcare dollars through Healthcare Savings Accounts is an idea well worth supporting. This bill addresses this as well.
However, these are a couple of very good provisions that get it right, stuck in a bad bill.
We should all be worried about this Medicare bill's cuts to cancer care, its weakening of our immigration laws, and its placement of our nation's graduate-level medical education programs in a perilous position. But more than any of these other concerns, this bill is so fiscally irresponsible that I simply could not support.
The term "fiscally irresponsible" gets used a lot in Washington. Unfortunately, if there ever was a case of true fiscal irresponsibility embodied in a bill, this would be the one.
You may have heard the final price tag for this bill's attempt to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare would total up to $400 billion. But $400 billion is where the cost starts; where it ends up is another matter.
The bill uses private prescription drug plans (PDPs) to provide seniors a prescription drug benefit. Under this plan, the federal government provides a subsidy of 73 percent to PDPs to get them to participate. That means the government pays 73 percent and the PDPs pay the remaining 27 percent of the cost of the benefit. We know that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 95 percent of the country will be covered at that subsidy level. But what happens if CBO is wrong (as it frequently is)? What if only 75 percent of the country is covered at that subsidy level? The bill requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to increase the subsidy, up to 99.9 percent if necessary, to bring PDPs to the entire country. How much more would that cost? Another $100 billion or more?
When it comes to the cost for this bill and the open-ended entitlement it creates, the sky's the limit.
Congress has missed a golden opportunity to keep Medicare from going broke while ensuring it's still there for our grandkids instead of serving as a financial albatross around their necks.
Groucho Marx once said, "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it and then misapplying the wrong remedies."
That's a pretty good description of politics, and what I'm afraid happened along the way to improving Medicare.
(U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood is an Evans resident.)
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