What if Medicare Spending Decreased and Nobody Cared?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 29 2014 8:36 AM

What if Medicare Spending Decreased and Nobody Cared?

57609195SP004_Seniors_Rush_
Getting cheaper?

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nobody can agree on what caused the good news in the latest Medicare trustees report. The trustees certainly can't. In the Washington Post, Amy Goldstein writes matter-of-factly that "Medicare’s financial stability has been strengthened by the Affordable Care Act and other forces." At Vox, Sarah Kliff warns that "some senior administration officials I spoke with cautioned against reading too much into these particular figures; receipts for services rendered in 2013, for example, might trickle after the year has ended." In the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein quotes Medicare's actuary to point out that the cuts may not "be viable in the long range." And in the Boston Globe, Stephen Ohlemacher runs the bases: "Experts debate whether the health-spending slowdown is the result of a sluggish economy or represents a dividend from President Obama’s health care law, and more recent Medicare cuts by Congress." Isn't that just like the experts! 

Perhaps the best way to read the good news, that Medicare Part A spending fell from $266.8 billion to $266.2 from 2012 to 2013, is to imagine what the reaction might have been had the numbers moved the other direction. How would we be talking about the phase-in of Obamacare, and its Medicare spending reductions? Pretty obvious: We'd be branding it a disaster, failure, debacle, impeachment-fodder, etc. After all, it's four years since the law passed, and ads for Republican candidates still scorch the Democrats for "cutting $700 billion from seniors' Medicare."

Advertisement

The ads are not wrong, as the doctors already dropped from Medicare Advantage eligibility will happily tell you. But the obsession of Washington's dealmakers is Medicare spending, and finding some way to prevent a demographic apocalypse. The trustees point out that the Obamacare cuts had added, since 2010, 13 years to the life expectancy of the Medicare trust fund. Democrats don't want to campaign on the cost reductions; Republicans prefer to focus on the cuts than on the savings. The result: The White House bragging about savings, some versions of the Medicare story putting it in the lede, and public awareness remaining close to nil.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.