In his Monday column at the New York Times, economist Paul Krugman went after GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush for claiming that Medicare ought to be "phased out," claiming that such talk is emblematic an ideologically motivated desire on the part of the Republican Party to destroy the social safety net -- especially if there's evidence that it's working.
Krugman began by mocking Bush for espousing yet another obsolete idea. "Mr. Bush often seems like a Rip Van Winkle who slept through everything that has happened since he left the governor’s office," he argued, because "after all, he’s still boasting about Florida’s housing-bubble boom."
After noting that Bush's spokesperson corrected the candidate on the finer points of his own policy -- he doesn't want Medicare "phased out," he only wants to raise the age of eligibility -- Krugman noted that even the more tempered opinion offered by the spokesperson is just another "zombie idea" being trotted out by "Washington's Very Serious People," as it would save hardly any money.
The real reason conservatives want to do away with Medicare has always been political: It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful. But when they make their case to the public they usually shy away from making their real case, and have even, incredibly, sometimes posed as the program’s defenders against liberals and their death panels.
What Medicare’s would-be killers usually argue, instead, is that the program as we know it is unaffordable — that we must destroy the system in order to save it, that, as Mr. Bush put it, we must “move to a new system that allows [seniors] to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.” And the new system they usually advocate is, as I said, vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance.
The underlying premise here is that Medicare as we know it is incapable of controlling costs, that only the only way to keep health care affordable going forward is to rely on the magic of privatization.
Now, this was always a dubious claim. It’s true that for most of Medicare’s history its spending has grown faster than the economy as a whole — but this is true of health spending in general. In fact, Medicare costs per beneficiary have consistently grown more slowly than private insurance premiums, suggesting that Medicare is, if anything, better than private insurers at cost control. Furthermore, other wealthy countries with government-provided health insurance spend much less than we do, again suggesting that Medicare-type programs can indeed control costs...