Lame Duck Congress Might Try to Water Down Medicare

With a lame duck Congress now in session, Medicare–the old age public health program upon which women disproportionately depend–is expected to be in the cross-hairs.

“Medicare will be front and center in the debate,” predicted Susan Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick. “House Republicans don’t view the Democrats’ victories as a reason to retreat from their long-term position that any debt deal includes steep savings drawn from reforming all entitlements, including Medicare.”

Three female members of the House, all Democrats, are leaping to defend Medicare during the lame duck session.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut will meet Nov. 15 with the Washington-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

The committee, which helped stop the George W. Bush administration’s attempt to privatize Social Security in 2005, will present more than 100,000 letters from national committee members and supporters opposing cutting Medicare and Social Security to reduce the deficit.

Congress is under pressure to find a solution to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and $1.2 trillion of automatic budget cuts, including a 2 percent decrease to Medicare providers, which will occur Jan. 2.

Because of the aging of baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964), Medicare spending is projected to increase from $590 billion in 2012 to $1 trillion in 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The budget office projects that the trust fund that pays hospital bills will run out of money in 2024.

Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which passed the Republican-controlled House twice in different versions, called for gradually lifting the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 by 2034, from 65. During the 2011 debt hearings, President Barack Obama said he was open to raising Medicare eligibility and making broad cuts in exchange for Republican support for tax increases on the wealthy.

These cuts would be disastrous for women, said Karen Davenport, director of health policy of the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that uses the courts to challenge gender bias.

“The majority of Medicare recipients are women–56 percent in 2009,” Davenport said. “Women live longer and are poorer than men. In 2009, 43 percent of female Medicare recipients were living in or near poverty compared to 32 percent of men. Forty-nine percent of women had three or more chronic conditions compared to 32 percent of men.”

Fifty-five percent of women, but only 45 percent of men, voted for Obama, according to an analysis of exit poll data by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

Although the poor economy was the main issue in the campaign, 67 percent of women and 62 percent of men said Medicare was very important in making their electoral decisions, according to a Pew Research poll in September.

“Having so many women in the 113th Congress that begins in January will help keep the financial realities of older Americans at the forefront of policy-making,” said Carroll of Rutgers. “Female legislators realize that preserving Medicare is an issue that not only affects older women who receive benefits, but younger women who care for the elderly and are concerned about their own retirement.”

Excerpted from Women’s eNews. Read the full article here.

Photo courtesy of Fifth World Art via Creative Commons 2.0