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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks Is Excited: Paul Ryan Kicks the Elderly While Protecting the Wealthy

David Brooks Is Excited: Paul Ryan Kicks the Elderly While Protecting the Wealthy

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Tuesday, 05 April 2011 03:44

There are few things that get David Brooks more excited than seeing a politician beat up on the elderly and because he has a column in the New York Times, we all get to share the thrill. As Brooks tells us, Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, has a long list of budget reforms and most importantly is prepared to go after Medicare. Ryan would replace the current Medicare program with a voucher system. This would end the commitment of Medicare to provide decent health care to the elderly and disabled. If private sector health care costs grow as projected the vast majority of seniors would soon find themselves unable to afford health care under Mr. Ryan's plan.

Brooks' excitement for Ryan extends beyond his willingness to cut Medicare benefits for retired workers. He tells us that Ryan would even, "reform the tax code along the Simpson-Bowles lines, but without the tax increases." What a guy, Ryan is even prepared to reduce taxes as he ends the security that Medicare provides for retired workers.

I'll confess to having gotten caught up in the excitement, but getting back to the facts that Brooks gets wrong, he tells readers that:

"The current welfare state is simply unsustainable and anybody who is serious, on left or right, has to have a new vision of the social contract."

Actually this is not true, as everybody who serious on the left or right knows. The U.S. health care system is unsustainable. If per person health care costs were the same as those in Germany, Canada or any other wealthy country, then the United States would be looking at long-term budget surpluses, not deficits. If the health care system is not fixed it will have a devastating impact on the economy regardless of what we do with public sector health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Of course fixing the health care system requires going after powerful interest groups like the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and the doctors' lobbies. Attacking these powerful groups is less likely to draw praise from media pundits like Brooks. They don't get quite as excited when politicians attack the wealthy and powerful as when they attack ordinary workers.

Brooks is also excited by the fact that "the ex-chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers and 64 prominent budget experts" signed letters stressing the urgency of reducing the budget deficit. While no one would want to question the credentials of these experts, they may want to question their competence.

Not one member of this group warned of the $8 trillion housing bubble, the collapse of which led to the worst downturn since the Great Depression. This downturn is likely to cost the economy close to $3 trillion in lost output and add a comparable amount to the nation's debt. In fact, if these budget hawks had a better understanding of the economy, they would have been focusing their concerns on the housing bubble instead of the deficit in the years from 2002-2006.

Their focus on the deficit distracted the public's attention from the economy's most pressing problem. Because of their prominence, these experts were able to draw media attention from those who were actually warning of the housing bubble. The result was the economic collapse that we are now experiencing and much larger deficits than the ones that had concerned them in the years prior to the collapse. There is no evidence that this group's understanding of the economy has improved in the last 4 years.


Comments (10)Add Comment
Brooks Vouches for Paul Ryan Voucher Competition in Health Care
written by izzatzo, April 05, 2011 7:32
Ryan would replace the current Medicare program with a voucher system. ...
... Of course fixing the health care system requires going after powerful interest groups like the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and the doctors' lobbies.


This is a brilliant supply side competition strategy that creates more jobs in the health care sector while reducing the deficit at the same time.

Once patients with vouchers learn how to shop doctors, pharmacies and insurers, of course Baker's goal of cutting health care costs in half will easily follow since there's so many competitive alternatives with prices posted for detailed services.

For example one of the best deals going that's still a secret due to excessive regulation and lack of market exposure are really cheap cancer drugs heavily diluted across more patients to achieve economies of scale.

Vouchers and deregulation will open up this market despite the absence of surviving patients to witness its success since Brooks will vouch for it anyway in his column.
If you were smart
written by Jon, April 05, 2011 9:24
Then you'd know Dean is correct. There is already a private program in Medicare. It's called the Medicare Advantage plan. It was passed in 97 and since then has not controlled costs in the least. In fact, it is responsible for most of the cost increases Medicare is experiencing.
...
written by diesel, April 05, 2011 9:29
Although Brooks' column is long on enthusiasm, it's short on the very quality of "specificity" which he praises in Ryan's proposal. As you remark, Dean, all that may be said is that he is brimming with excitement.
Another perspective
written by Grax, April 05, 2011 11:55
In the Health and Science section of the Washington Post today (04/05/2011), there is an article about "medical vacations", specifically about surgery performed in India for a fraction of the cost of the same procedures in the U.S. Best of all, the hospital owner who was interviewed is going to open a 200-bed facility, which can be expanded to 2000 beds, in the Cayman Islands! I'm sure that the insurance companies and their shareholders are taking note of this chance to increase profit margins, and D. Brooks and his ilk are licking their chops at the possibility of shrinking the number of American jobs even further.
...
written by fuller schmidt, April 05, 2011 4:32
I hope there's no confusion about izzatzo by Jon and his plusses. It's funny satire.
...
written by urban legend, April 05, 2011 7:57
Excuse me, but from now on, the so-called "deficit hawks" should more accurately be called "deficit vultures."

Hospitals' market power is an important part of cost-inflation.
written by Rachel, April 05, 2011 10:50
Surgery in the Cayman Islands may not sound appealing, but in India, or Korea? Why not? It's not even clear that it would cause major job losses, since it means that workers would have more money for other purchases.

Of course we would all prefer to keep the jobs at home. But the medical lobby is determined to block fair competition here. So we have to take it where we can get it.

In particular, overseas surgey might mean that some cities could afford to do some rehiring, since they wouldn't have to spend so much on employees' hospital costs, which are now seriously inflated by hospital consolidations.


Can I use my Voucher in India
written by deanx, April 06, 2011 6:40
I like Racheal's point ... can I use my Medicare voucher to purchase coverage in Canada or India? I can't do that right now. Maybe there's a net mutual benefit in all of this.
International Medicare Vouchers
written by Dean, April 06, 2011 7:44
Under the scheme that i have laid out people could buy into the health care systems of other countries. In such cases, you would take your voucher and buy into Germany, Canada, or some other country's system. You pocket half the saving and the government pockets the other half. (The country also gets a premium over its costs.) The other country is then responsible for your care, not Medicare.
...
written by paine, April 06, 2011 4:57
great lead off punch DB

"There are few things that get David Brooks more excited than seeing a politician beat up on the elderly and because he has a column in the New York Times, we all get to share the thrill"
almost a shame you had to keep going

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.

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