If reports from D.C. whiz kids like Ezra Klein are true, then I should feel good about my new status as a Medicare bargaining chip. It seems as part of the latest "grand bargain" negotiations to get a deal with Congressional Republicans, President Obama has put raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 on the table. We are told by Beltway wise guys that this is necessary because Republicans must have a "trophy" (as House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi so elegantly put it last week) to help them build up their self esteem after a tough election season. If they don't get their trophy then they threaten yet again to wreck the world economy when it comes to raising the debt ceiling -- a matter of political "leverage" gleefully embraced by Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham have.
Klein represents a smart, analytic approach to my life as bargaining chip. In yesterday's Washington Post, he notes almost an afterthought to the all-important political maneuvering that, well, some seniors might be hurt:
And it shouldn’t be forgotten: Raising the Medicare eligibility age really will hurt some seniors. The poorest seniors will be okay, thanks to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act — though that assumes that by the time the age increase phases in all states are participating in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion or that the deal includes some protection for seniors in states that have rejected it. Richer seniors will be fine, thanks to their wealth or to their employers. But there are a number of middle-income seniors who make enough that they won’t get much help from Obamacare, who are sick enough that they won’t get a good deal from insurers, and who may end up going uninsured (after paying the individual mandate’s penalty) or straining under the cost of health insurance.Does Klein realize what he is saying? Does he understand all the mechanizations that need to be in place -- such as assuming Medcaid won't get cut further -- for the millions of people from 65 to 67 who would not eligible for Medicare? Does he know the median annual income for folks on Medicare at age 65 is around $22,800, with 64 percent of all medicare recipients making $30,000 or under? That was according to 2010 studyby Kaiser. My point isn't to single out Klein (whom I read regularly) but to show how breathtaking shallow that D.C. policy debates can be.
For the record, I am 57, a cancer survivor and a free-lance writer (or independent contractor) who can't even begin to think about a health care plan that would have me or that I could afford. I am literally counting the days until 1) I find a job that offer health care benefits or 2) Obamacare kicks in beginning in January 2014. In this economy, the Door #2 option is more likely. Needless to say, after having paid into Medicare for almost four decades, I was hoping for something better than being a bargaining chip, but life as we all know, is hardly fair. And really, we must consider the feelings of conservative Republicans who need their trophy and frankly need to be vindicated in their quest to destroy Medicare one step at at time without actually saying that's their true intention.
Alas, the reason I don't feel good about being a bargaining chip is that it appears I have become a cheap one. As Klein explained on Rachel Maddow's showlast week, the plan to raise the eligibility age to 67 would not even save actual money (as opposed to D.C. budget money). In accounting kabuki that Republicans love, such a move would save $5.7 billion while downshifting the cost of $11.4 billion to the health care system, states, employers, and yes, premium paying bargaining chips like me and many of you.
I also feel cheap because it appears President Obama is asking so little in return. The top rates may not even go up to the Clinton-era level of 39.6 (37 percent seems to be the new acceptable level: I guess the super wealthy have feelings to consider as well) and it seems as if little or no stimulus will be included in the ongoing grand betrayal talks even though everyone in their right mind knows a major stimulus push is what is needed to create jobs and growth. But then, as though in a Monty Python movie, we must absurdly salute the supply side religious faith that has failed again and again. Austerity, be thy name. Really, Mr. President, if you are going to betray millions and millions of liberals and progressives who supported you and use me as bargaining chip, at least get a substantial trophy of your own.
It would be better to tempt the ridiculously named fiscal cliff and actually get the rates you wanted in the first place and let the Republicans work on cutting taxes for the 98 percent come January. If Republicans don't want to extend unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut extension, remind the country of that every day.
And please President Obama keep your promise to not reward Republicans for playing the debt ceiling game. Tell the increasingly pathetic Lindsey Graham (a perfect example of a right-wing politician going right off the edge in the face of Tea Party wingnut primary challenge in 2014) and his ilk to grow up. It is hilarious to watch Graham go red-faced about the debt, the deficit and fearing the country will become another Greece -- which may become a scary self-fulfilling prophecy if Graham has his way. If you mean business, if you really mean to break their insane political fever, call their bluff. While many of the remaining Republicans are political mad hatters, there are enough rational minds to not give into the madness.
But then, what do I know. I am just a bargaining chip.