If you intend to vote for president solely on the basis of either candidate’s claims about what he will do to solve the nation’s growing health care pains, you have to be one confused dude or dudess. The claims and counter claims that have bombarded you from your television set every few minutes are so off the wall, they ought to go down in the Guinness Book for the record number of distortions in one political campaign.
About the only thing one can agree on when examining the promises of Barack Obama and John McCain is that both would cost more money than this country can afford at a time when headlines are proclaiming that many financially hard-pressed Americans are even cutting down on their medical prescriptions to save money. And the only thing consistent in their approach to the issue is the disparagement each candidate has for the other’s proposals.
Obama, aided by a campaign treasury heretofore unknown to politics, rolls out one television advertisement after another accusing his opponent of planning to shred Medicare and Medicaid and force Americans to pay far more than they should. His figures, as former Sen. John Williams of Delaware used to say, "don’t lie, but then liars figure," which blatantly is the case in this instance. He seems to have pulled an $882 billion shortfall out of the hip pocket of one of his liberal backers who contends McCain will have to save $1.3 trillion over 20 years to pay for his plan.
At the same time, McCain is clearly optimistic that he can find the savings needed to finance his plan while continuing to provide to seniors the benefits they have been promised. However, experts say that Obama’s contention that switching to electronic health records will save $120 billion also is wishful thinking.
No one should be optimistic about what either man can do to rein in the accelerating health care costs and at the same time provide care for the 47 million Americans who don’t have insurance. The problem has taxed the best minds available not to mention the nation’s pocket book almost from the start of the medical programs, when costs of both the plan for the elderly and the one for the indigent were wildly underestimated. As with Social Security, Congress for years refused to pay as they went for health care increases. Medicare now faces bankruptcy much earlier than Social Security as the population ages.
The truth of the matter is that it will be difficult to maintain the current benefits let alone adding millions and millions more Americans to the roles without a major increase in the payroll tax for both employer and employees. Figuring out how to deal with nearly 20 percent of the national economy has to be at the top of any new administration’s agenda. It was in 1992 when newly elected William Jefferson Clinton tapped his wife, Hillary, to come up with a long -range solution. That, as everyone who wasn’t living on Mars knows, was a miserable failure.
Since then the problem has become considerable worse. Social Security and the health plans are increasingly burdensome and counterproductive to business and individuals and almost as overwhelming to younger Americans. These entitlement programs soon will eat up much of the national budget, leaving almost nothing for contingencies.
In the current economic climate, it is irresponsible for any candidate to make promises that he must know he will have difficulty fulfilling. But old folks vote in larger numbers than most groups and to even suggest that savings have to be found somewhere sets off warning bells that reverberate in the polling places.
The last thing Americans seem to want to hear about health care is the truth. So neither of the two candidates is willing to tell it or even to admit that their own numbers and solutions are anything but practical. Liars figure.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)