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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider

Posted: 5:08 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, 2009

Echoes Of Debates Past 

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By Jamie Dupree

I was doing some reading the other day about health care reform when I ran across a mention of a fight in 1997 over reforms in Medicare, which almost sounded like some of the arguments Congress is having today, as well as other debates that haven't surfaced at all.

Back then, Republicans running the Congress were looking at ways to rein in the federal government's health care budget, and they targeted Medicare for savings.

Democrats and the Clinton White House denounced the plans as "cuts," arguing that they would harm seniors.

Sound familiar?  This year, the parties have simply switched arguments.

While Democrats argue that their plan in 2009 will reform Medicare, a lot of critics don't seem so sure about that, just as they had opposite conclusions 12 years ago.

While reading through some of my stories from back then, I was struck by how specific some of the reform plans were that lawmakers were considering on Medicare.

One idea was that the Medicare system needed a higher eligiblity age of 67, rather than 65 years old.  Fewer people on the rolls would mean that the feds wouldn't be paying out benefits as quicky.

The idea was to phase in that change over a 24 year period, by raising the eligibility age one month every one of those 24 years.

That means by now in 2009, the eligibility age for Medicare would have been 66. 

Who was pushing that idea?  Two Senators from Florida, one Republican and one Democrat, as Sen. Connie Mack and Sen. Bob Graham also wanted to have Congress approve higher Medicare premiums for wealthy seniors.

The higher costs would have hit individual seniors who were making more than $50,000 and couples making more than $75,000 in yearly income.

Those items were actually approved by the Senate, but did not make it into the final legislation, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

We haven't had any debate along those lines this year, which makes a lot of people wonder whether we are really "reforming" Medicare under the plans offered by Democrats.

Current estimates have Medicare going broke in seven years, so it's obvious something must be done.

So are this year's proposed changes "cuts" or "needed savings."

You make the call.