Trump Cabinet Pick Advocates Privatization of Medicare

Posted Dec. 7, 2016

MP3 Interview with Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, conducted by Scott Harris


As Donald Trump campaigned for president, he advocated for many long-held conservative views, including deportation of undocumented immigrants, climate change denial, big tax breaks for the nations’ wealthiest citizens, repealing Obamacare, lifting regulations on corporations and banks, and pouring billions more dollars into the U.S. military. But there were a handful of issues where Trump departed from the conservative orthodoxy, like his opposition to free trade agreements that had been supported by Republican and Democratic presidents alike. In discussing domestic social safety net issues, Trump warned in an April 2015 television interview that his GOP primary rivals would cut Medicare and Social Security, but that he alone would protect those popular programs.

But the president-elect’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees Medicare, Rep. Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, sends a very different message. Price is a strong supporter of a plan to raise the Medicare eligibility age and partially privatize the senior health care program. Price will have an ally in GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, a longtime advocate of Medicare privatization, who has unsuccessfully proposed many plans to shift Medicare from the current single-payer system in which healthcare bills are paid directly by the government, to a system where seniors would be forced to use their government benefits to buy private insurance. Vice President-elect Mike Pence is another powerful member of the incoming Trump administration who supports privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Nancy Altman, co-director of the group Social Security Works, who talks about the prospects that Donald Trump will break his campaign pledge and move quickly to privatize Medicare and Medicaid while the Republican Party is in full control of all three branches of government. Altman is also the author of "Social Security Works: Why Social Security isn't going broke and how expanding it will halp us all." [Rush transcript.]

NANCY ALTMAN: Everyone should have their ears be listening for the euphemisms, because these are extremely successful programs. They're extremely efficient programs, and they are extremely popular programs. In every generation, there have been those who hate government, don't think Social Security and Medicare are kinds of programs government should provide. They think it should just be you know it should be an Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and nothing else and no domestic spending.

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So they are against these kinds of government-sponsored insurance. And they used to in 1930s, 40s, 50s call it socialism and that the government shouldn't be doing this. And they, time after time, lost because the American people disagreed. But it was an honest debate. Now Paul Ryan and Tom Price, the nominee-to-be Health and Human Services secretary, (Vice President-Elect) Mike Pence say "We want to give people choice." Well, there already is choice within these programs. "We want to save them; they're going bankrupt." They're not going bankrupt. Whenever you project out 10, 20, 30, 40 years - Social Security and Medicare are projected out three-quarters of a century – 75 years – you're sometimes going to see unintended surpluses. You'll also find unintended shortfalls and of course, you have to address those. And it is true that Social Security and Medicare, if you project out far enough, are forecasting manageable shortfalls, nothing to be alarmed about. We should make the wealthiest pay more into these programs and these programs will be fine for many generations. There's no reason we can't have these programs forever.

But by talking this alarmist language that "it's going bankrupt, that we've got to make a radical change – the population's aging, we can't afford all of these old people," what you're doing, we're doing softening the ground to come in and end these programs as we know them and to substitute in the case of Medicare – what they're talking about, is instead of right now, when you turn 65, you get a Medicare card and you have insurance that you can go to hospitals, doctors and so forth. But they want to just give you some money and say, "Go out on the market, good luck, and find some insurance."

We know that before Medicare was enacted, most seniors could not find insurance that they could afford, and those that did paid astronomical amounts for the insurance and that's why we have Medicare. The irony is that Medicare works extremely well, and what Paul Ryan and his allies are talking about, is ironically turning Medicare into Obamacare. Obamacare is better than what we had before, but it's not nearly as good as Medicare. And what we should be doing is lowering the Medicare age, putting in a universal children's program, moving toward Medicare for All. But of course, they're talking about turning the clock back and turning Medicare into what they hate, Obamacare.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The Republicans now control all three branches of government. Something that they haven't done in quite some time. What are the prospects for effective opposition to these plans by Paul Ryan and possibly Donald Trump himself, and certainly, the advocacy of privatization by his nominated Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price? What can the Democrats, what can progressives do to stop these plans from moving forward and materializing?

NANCY ALTMAN: Well, it is very scary as you say. But the one good thing about these programs are that they are overwhelmingly supported across the ideological spectrum. So that the conservative base of the Republican members don't want to see these programs cut. So what we've got to do is make sure everyone knows. Call your friends; call your neighbors. If you've got friends and neighbors in red states, let them know that there is a threat to Social Security and Medicare and they should be contacting their representatives and their senators and reminding them that those people work for us, we don't work for them. They should not be doing things that we don't want done.

So if the Republicans are dead set on doing this, they have the ability to do it. But again, they really are going to be crossing their own constituents as well as everyone else. So it's really important to talk to the senators because they are running statewide. But everyone should know, "Hands off our Social Security", "Hands off our Medicare."

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