Bush Administration Official Questions Medicare Drug Benefit
The Medicare prescription drug benefit is "financially irresponsible," U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, said in a segment on CBS' "60 Minutes" this weekend, Reuters reports.
Walker called the drug benefit "probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s ... because we promise way more than we can afford to keep." Walker said that $8 trillion would need to be invested immediately to cover the difference between what Medicare will take in and what it will owe to beneficiaries over the next 75 years.
He cited the long-term financing problems Medicare will face due to the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation. Walker said that "when those boomers start retiring en masse, then that will be a tsunami of spending that could swamp our ship of state if we don't get serious" (Reuters , 3/5).
The Bush administration on Monday defended the Medicare drug benefit.
Acting CMS Administrator Leslie Norwalk in a statement said the drug benefit was necessary to get "Medicare's benefits in line with today's medical care." Norwalk added, "Over 90% [of Medicare beneficiaries] are covered and the program costs are much less than what experts predicted when the bill was enacted in 2004" (Reuters , 3/5).
Walker also addressed the drug benefit on Monday at a meeting held by the Federation of American Hospitals, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. He said U.S. growth would not be able to sustain Medicare and existing entitlement program spending, and he warned that limitations for Medicaid might be necessary in the future, perhaps by increasing the income eligibility levels.
All U.S. residents should have minimum levels of care, but there must be more individual accountability for health care expenses, according to Walker. He said, "If there's one thing that can bankrupt America, it's health care."
He added, "Anybody who tells you we are going to grow our way out of this, number one, hasn't studied economic history, and number two, probably isn't very proficient at math" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 3/5).
The CBS' "60 Minutes" segment featuring Walker on Sunday also includes comments from Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) (Kroft, "60 Minutes," CBS, 3/4).
Video of the segment is available online. A transcript of the segment also is available online.