• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • DeMint Bill Expands Seniors’ Health Care Freedom

    Senator Jim DeMint (R–SC) and 12 of his Senate Republican colleagues recently introduced the Retirement Freedom Act. The bill would allow senior citizens to buy a better health plan than traditional Medicare, if they wish to do so, without having to give up their Social Security benefits.

    Today, if a person who is retiring does not wish to enroll in traditional Medicare’s hospitalization program and instead wants to buy his or her own health care coverage, the federal bureaucracy forces that person to give up Social Security benefits as well. This is not a product of law, hammered out in congressional debate, but rather a result of regulation recently ratified by the judiciary. But it is also a severe penalty on the exercise of health care choice and a profound restriction on personal freedom.

    While Medicare eligibility is statutorily linked to Social Security, the two programs are in fact very different programs that serve very different needs. Social Security, created in 1935, is financed through a federal payroll tax as a safety net pension program. Medicare Part A (the hospitalization program), created in 1965, is financed through a separate 2.9 percent payroll tax. (Medicare Part B, the part of the program that pays physicians, is voluntary and financed by a combination of enrollee premiums and heavy taxpayer subsidies.)

    The DeMint bill would not change or reduce the Medicare payroll tax; it would simply permit seniors to forego the hospitalization benefits that they paid for if, in their judgment, they would rather pay for their own benefits or buy a better health package. Under Section 2 of the bill, a person who opts out of Medicare Part A may opt back into the program without being subject to any “penalty” in accordance with “a process” determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. As a technical matter, this may require some further refinement, such as the provision of risk-adjusted premium payment to offset any adverse selection at additional expense to the taxpayer.

    As in education—in which the public school system benefits financially from parents’ personal decision to choose private options—if only 1 percent of seniors decide to pay for private hospitalization coverage, DeMint and his colleagues say that such a change will result in an immediate Medicare savings of $1.5 billion.

    DeMint’s proposal is a small step to expand personal freedom. It points to a much bigger problem: Medicare’s financial burdens, accompanying the retirement of the baby boomers, will guarantee even greater restrictions on patient freedom. To cope with the larger problem, Congress and the Administration need to reform the entire program, providing each senior with a direct contribution to the health plan of their choice, as The Heritage Foundation has proposed in “Saving the American Dream.”

    Meanwhile, because of the mounting problems facing the financially troubled Medicare program, Congress should quickly clarify its intent and open an escape hatch for seniors. The Medicare trustees report that Medicare Part A is running a cash-flow deficit of over $32 billion and faces insolvency by 2024. The Medicare Actuary reports that 15 percent of Medicare Part A providers will be operating in the red as a result of Obamacare’s record-breaking payment cuts. Even worse, the Medicare Actuary projects that, under Obamacare, Medicare Part A providers face declining payment rates that will reach Medicaid levels. Because Medicaid pays doctors and hospitals so little, Medicaid patients often can’t find doctors to take care of them, let alone get high quality care. When stupid government rules are the problem, freedom is always the right answer.

    A senior fellow at Heritage’s Center for Policy Innovation, Moffitt is the co-author of Why Obamacare is Wrong for America (HarperCollins/Broadside, 2011).

    Posted in Obamacare [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to DeMint Bill Expands Seniors’ Health Care Freedom

    1. West Texan says:

      DeMint is absolutely on target with his proposal. I'd add that military retirees should not be forced onto Medicare when they turn 65, with TRICARE reduced to supplemental status. I suspect most military retirees would rather retain their full TRICARE benefits while choosing private supplemental coverage themselves.

      • Linda Hyle says:

        I totally agree with you. My husband is reitred AF and we are both on Medicare now, which is costing us more then Tricare would if we had a choice. The two of us would save the government about $1700 a year. Multiply that by thousands if not a few million; no brainer!!

    2. B. Stronghart says:

      Allowing personnel to keep Tricare benefits would add to Governmental expense. Isn't the idea to reduce Government paid benefits ?

      • West Texan says:

        TRICARE is employer health coverage for the uniformed services. It's not a social entitlement. Military retirees are eligible to receive this benefit up until the age of 65. That's when they're forced onto Medicare. Social progressives would have it no other way. It's these elitist hypocrites obvious contempt for America's military and the personnel who stood guard and protected our homes and liberties. Military retirees have faithfully done their duty, it's time for congress to do theirs and help these proven patriots continue with full TRICARE benefits for the rest of their lives.

    3. B. Stronghart says:

      What is the current total cost of health care in the United States? By total care I mean the cost of all insurance policies, plus the cost of all governmental health plans.
      What are the administrative costs of Governmental plans compared to the costs of administration plus profit for the private plans?

      Would single payer be cheaper overall?

      • indeed says:

        Why are you calling health insurance 'health care?'

        Thats not health care. A shot with antibiotics being inject is "health care."

        People already think health insurance should cover way more than is proper. Lets not further muddle the problem.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.