Politics & Policy

Medicare Prescription

Common-sense entitlement reform.

In the next few days, Congress will be voting on the federal budget, including the budget for Medicare. It’s no secret that Medicare is in serious financial trouble, which is why I will offer an amendment to put Medicare on stronger financial ground. My amendment would apply a means test to the Medicare prescription-drug benefit to ensure that the wealthiest seniors pay more of their share. It’s simple, it’s reasonable, and it would go a long way toward improving the long-term health of Medicare.

The recent Medicare Trustees’ report again confirmed what every American should know by now — Medicare faces severe financial shortfalls. Every member of Congress understands that the longer we wait to address these shortfalls, the more painful the choices become. Inaction will leave a federal budget completely overwhelmed by programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in the near future. Requiring a means test to Medicare’s prescription-drug benefit would save billions in just a few years.

Remember, this prescription-drug benefit is a new benefit. Today’s senior citizens did not pay into the Medicare program, through payroll taxes, with the promise of a prescription-drug benefit. Instead, the cost to provide the benefit to our wealthiest seniors is being paid for by taxes from today’s working families who are struggling to make ends meet. It is not fair that we have young families earning $50,000 a year paying the bill for prescription drugs for millionaires.

We already means-test Medicare Part B, which helps cover doctors’ services and outpatient care. It is entirely reasonable to implement that same cost-saving mechanism for the newer drug benefit.

Under my proposal, single Medicare patients with annual adjusted gross incomes over $82,000 a year and couples with annual adjusted gross incomes of more than $164,000 a year will be responsible for a greater share of their Medicare Part D premium based on a sliding scale. For example, single Medicare beneficiaries with annual adjusted gross incomes between $82,000 and $102,000 will see an increase of only about $10.41 in their monthly Medicare Part D premiums.

Importantly, my legislation will not deprive any senior citizens of their Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Instead, it will say that if you can afford to pay a little more for the Medicare Part D premium, then you should. Seniors who have annual incomes below $82,000 would still be able to receive the same substantial government subsidy for their Part D premium that they have today. But the retired Fortune 500 CEOs or Wall Street traders who still receive substantial income from their investments do not need the same prescription-drug subsidy as a retired teacher.

Democrats talk constantly on the campaign trail about wanting to raise taxes, particularly on the wealthy, yet they have been unwilling to make wealthy seniors pay their fair share of programs such as the prescription-drug benefit. Their desire to raise taxes is inconsistent with their failure to take reasonable steps to address long-term entitlement spending.

We have a responsibility to put our government back on the right fiscal track, and containing entitlement spending is critical to reaching that goal. The American people will appreciate that we are tackling complicated issues and making difficult decisions in order to ensure our nation’s fiscal solvency. That is what being a leader is about, and that is what our country needs today and for the future.

American families have had to make tough choices to balance their budgets. They understand that you can’t have it all. But we in Congress want to have it all — even when we can’t pay for it. That has to end.

This is not a partisan issue; it is a fairness issue. I believe it is time for Democrats and Republicans to get serious about healthcare entitlement spending, and this is an important, sensible and logical first step. Will the Senate adopt this reasonable solution to put Medicare on a more stable footing, or will we continue to duck hard choices only to make matters worse for our children to solve?

Senator John Ensign is a member of the Finance Committee and the Budget Committee. He is a member of GOP leadership as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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