Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: Medicare, a Juicy Target for Privatizers

Posted at 3:19 pm, November 29th, 2011
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

Fresh from stalemating the deficit-reduction panel, anti-tax zealots can turn their attention to their movement’s close cousin: the campaign to privatize Medicare.

A preview of the battle to get rid of government-run health care can be found in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott is determined to privatize everything in sight, including the state’s 16 publicly-financed hospitals. He created a 10-member Commission on Taxpayer Funded Hospital Districts headed by a pro-business tax watchdog which seems likely to recommend that the future of publicly owned hospitals be decided by referendum.

Scott is not exactly the ideal spokesman for for-profit hospitals. Before squeaking into the governor’s office by the narrowest of margins, he headed a hospital chain that admitted to multiple counts of Medicare fraud and agreed to a $1.7 billion fine. Scott was forced to resign as CEO but collected a settlement worth many millions. He then invested $73 million of his own money to win the Florida governorship.

Medicare presents a juicy target for the privatizers. It costs a lot of money, and many seniors enrolled in Medicare already are accustomed to dealing with private insurers either through supplemental policies or Medicare Advantage programs.

Medicare is well-run and highly popular. But so much money is at stake the private insurance industry has a huge incentive to propagandize seniors in behalf of a privatized system. Given the anti-government mood of the country, such a campaign could well succeed.

Making the task easier for the privatizers is the absence of an organized patients lobby. AARP has diluted its influence by annually taking hundreds of millions of dollars from private insurance companies for helping to sell their insurance products. AARP is positioned by virtue of its resources and vast membership to make an effective defense of Medicare. But will it? The organization has helped undercut Medicare by aggressively promoting sale of a Medicare Advantage alternative even as it advertises traditional Medigap plans. If AARP can’t or won’t protect Medicare, seniors will have no choice but to take matters into their own hands and go all-out to organize to preserve their beloved program.

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