Seniority: In the Middle on Medicare

The New York Times
May 6, 2001
by Fred Brock

"... Mr. Breaux hopes to use his negotiating skills to push Medicare legislation -including limited prescription coverage - through Congress this summer."

Sen. John Breaux:

"No one has a health plan as inadequate as the 40 million people on Medicare. Nobody has a health plan that does not cover 47 percent of their average costs."

"I'm trying to combine the best of what government can do and the best of what the private section can do. The best that government can do is pay for Medicare and help make sure that nobody tries to scam it. The best of what the private section can do is bring about the innovations and new technology quickly without having to get an act of Congress to cover something that's new. The private section can also bring about real competition to hopefully slow rising costs."

Comment: Sen. Breaux clearly understands that we need to add prescription coverage to Medicare and that we need to dramatically reduce out-of-pocket expenses. He also understands that Medicare will function best by properly balancing the roles of the government and the private sector. What he fails to acknowledge is the overwhelming evidence that competition, as a mechanism to control costs, has been a dismal failure. In fact, costs have actually increased through the excesses of the private bureaucracies of the "competing" health plans. There is a consensus that something must be done about the anticipated increases in the Medicare budget, and there is great risk that Sen. Breaux's plan may be enacted by default for "want of something better." We cannot allow this to happen. We must protect Medicare now, and then begin to enact the reforms that we really need.

An article on the flawed concept of containing Medicare costs through health plan competition is available at: