Government subsidies often produce unintended consequences. The latest example comes from the New York Times, which reports that federal subsidizes to encourage doctors and hospitals to use electronic billing and recording records are leading to larger Medicare bills. That means that taxpayers are taking a double hit even though policymakers claimed that electronic record-keeping would make health care delivery more efficient, and thus less costly.
In the Obama campaign's attack on the Romney-Ryan proposal to “voucherize” Medicare, one accusation is that the plan would force seniors to pay more of their healthcare costs: about $6,400 more per beneficiary, according to a recent TV ad known as “Facts.” Regardless of the “facts” in the ad, this attack takes as a given that any such outcome is undesirable.
Let's try to put the ongoing debate over the future of Medicare into a little bit of context. Last year, Americans paid $274 billion in Medicare taxes and premiums. At the same time, the program paid out $564 billion in benefits. That amounts to a shortfall of roughly $290 billion. Looking into the future, even the most optimistic estimate by the program's trustees puts Medicare's future unfunded liabilities at more than $38.6 trillion. More realistic projections suggest the shortfall could easily top $90 trillion.
A study in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine finds that when three states expanded their Medicaid programs, mortality rates fell 6 percent relative to four neighboring states. The study found evidence that the mortality gains were concentrated in poorer counties — i.e., where people were most likely to become eligible for Medicaid.
The Washington Post reports that a doctor in Texas bilked Medicare and Medicaid out of $375 million. That’s a lot of money, but improper payments represent somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of total spending on these two health programs. Thus, more than $100 billion of taxpayer funds could be going down the drain each year.
Medicare and Medicaid are rife with fraud. We’re talking 10 percent or more of total spending, which is two orders of magnitude more than what credit card companies tolerate.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s latest call for the federal government to soak the rich was prominently – and rather uncritically – featured on the major networks’ evening news last night. President Obama promptly jumped on Buffett’s op-ed in the New York Times to bolster his argument that Washington needs to generate more revenue.
David Boaz’s post on bizarre and utterly preposterous claims that the federal government’s “social safety net” has been shrinking brought to my mind James Madison’s position that “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”
Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced how $700 million in new Race to the Top money will be employed: $200 million to get close-loser states in the last RTTT to once again jump through hoops and grovel before their federal overloards, and $500 million for a new “early-learning” obedience contest.