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They're Coming For Medicare -- Be Ready

They are readying a bill with big cuts to Medicare benefits. Progressives must be ready to fight.

One of the best ways we can fight Trump right now is on the battlefield of Medicare. I'm sure everyone remembers how angry and stirred up Republican masses got at the idea of even one small change to Medicare.

Throughout his campaign, Trump assured his adoring followers that there would be no cuts to Medicare and Social Security. He tried to run to the left of Clinton on it, saying he would save it and make it better for everyone.

Those of us familiar with such empty promises knew that "make it better" was code for cuts, but his followers were having no part of it. Now is the time for battle, and the first battleground is going to be Medicare.

As I write, Paul Ryan is drafting his legislation to privatize Medicare and cut benefits. The Republican Congress has promised they will shovel this legislation through using budget reconciliation as their goal.

To make it palatable for today's seniors, Ryan has also promised that the current Medicare system will remain in place for people age 55 and above. That's a terrible idea, as Jonathan Cohn explains:

If at the same time Republicans shrink Medicaid, those seniors will suffer even more, since today the poorest seniors can use the program to pay for whatever medical bills Medicare does not.

Ryan promises that the proposal would not affect seniors who are 55 or older, since the new system wouldn’t begin operating for 10 years. But realistically the entire Medicare program would change once premium support took effect ― private plans would almost certainly find ways to pick off the healthiest seniors, for instance ― and, at best, the damage would simply take longer to play out.

Ryan’s Medicare scheme includes one other element ― a provision to raise the eligibility age gradually, so that seniors would eventually enroll at 67, rather than 65. Particularly in a world in which the Affordable Care Act no longer exists, 65- and 66-year-olds searching for private coverage would find it harder to obtain, more expensive and less generous than what they’d get from Medicare today.

There are two things to keep in mind here.

First, our response must be swift and vocal. That means that you must have the telephone numbers of your elected representatives at hand and be prepared to call them and register your opposition to any cuts to Medicare. No slacktivism. No online petitions. In-person telephone calls to your representatives, personal visits, and visible opposition.

Second, health policy is always complex. Always. People don't understand it. One of the reasons Medicare is so popular is because it's simpler than any private insurance plan. People pay a payroll tax and when they're 65 they enroll in a Medicare plan that covers most of their costs. They can buy a supplemental plan at low cost to cover what traditional Medicare doesn't. It's simple, and it's elegant, and it works. It's going to be up to us to keep this message clear and plain everywhere. When we talk to people, when we post on social media, and when we comment on blogs.

Do not let them use muddy terms and oversimplify their plans, like they did with the Affordable Care Act. They are the ones slogging through complex policy. Know your facts, be armed with them, and be prepared to fire a volley at anyone lying about their plans.

Make no mistake. This is the battleground. Gear up for it. Forget the distractions with outrageous claims and just stay focused on fighting. If we fight, we will win.

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