What Is It that Jeb Bush Doesn’t Understand About “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare”…?

Responding to a question at a forum hosted by the ironically named Americans for Prosperity, presidential wannabe Jeb Bush made clear that Republicans have learned absolutely nothing from former VP candidate Paul Ryan’s stupid proposal to scrap Medicare“We need to figure out a way to phase out this program” and replace it with something, Jeb!™ earnestly argued, providing fodder for endless Democratic attack ads (assuming “the smart Bush” manages to get as far as the general election).

Um… what exactly is it that Jeb!™ and his Republican cohort don’t get about “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”…?

Not sure Jeb!™ really wants to be running as the "Phase Out Medicare" candidate.

Not sure Jeb!™ really wants to be running as the “Phase Out Medicare” candidate, but whatever.

I guess, kudos to Jeb!™ for not hiding his intentions, but running as the “Phase Out Medicare” candidate is just stupid politics, at least in the general election. Americans love Medicare, especially the aging white Americans who disproportionately comprise the Republican base. In fact, they love it so much, that Republicans cynically painted Obamacare as a threat to Medicare in an effort to stir up opposition to health care reform.

And now Jeb!™ wants to phase it out? Sure, like Ryan, Jeb!™ insists that he would preserve Medicare for folks who already receive it, but if millions of seniors could be convinced to fear Obamacare as a slippery slope toward phasing out Medicare, what’re they going to think about a proposal that actually, you know, phases out Medicare?

So yeah, not a smart political move. But more than that, it’s a stupid, stupid policy.

The reason we created Medicare to provide health insurance to elderly Americans in the first place is that there’s no possible way to effectively do it through the market. You see, the way insurance works is that it pools risk, and this is a pool filled entirely with old people!

During college I worked my summers as a lifeguard at a pool filled with old people, and you know what I learned? Old people tend to be frail. They get injured. They get sick. They sometimes pee in the pool. Not to be ageist or anything, but they get very, very old.

Okay, different kind of pool, but the point remains: old people consume a lot of expensive health care. Thus, the only way to turn a profit offering primary health insurance to old people is to charge a premium higher than most old people can afford—which means there really isn’t a way to turn a profit offering primary health insurance to old people.

That’s why the government needs to do it. Unless Jeb!™ is just fine with letting millions of old people do without.

Finally, I’d just like to add a very personal and admittedly selfish objection to The Ryan/Bush Medicare Phase-Out Plan, in that I really, really, really don’t want to emigrate to Israel. (Stick with me.)

Jeb!™ isn’t specific about how he would phase out Medicare—we still need to “figure [it] out,” says Bush (something you’d think he might have put a little effort into before proposing eliminating one of the must successful anti-poverty programs in US history). But the Ryan plan called for scrapping Medicare for anybody currently under the age of 55. Which means 52-year-olds like me would be shit out of luck.

Of course, The Bush/Ryan Scrap Medicare Plan wouldn’t take away my Medicare and replace it with nothing. Ryan proposed giving future old-but-not-born-soon-enough people like me vouchers to subsidize the cost of purchasing coverage from private insurers who would compete for my business, theoretically driving down health care costs in the process. Because, markets! You know, just like when I was a healthy 40-something purchasing coverage on the individual market, and competition between private insurers drove down costs to the point where I enjoyed mere 17 percent annual premium increases on unaffordable catastrophic plans before Obamacare showed up and ruined everything!

Sure, maybe an unfettered (yet federally subsidized!) health care market would bring down the cost of oldster coverage. It’s never worked before in health care markets, though anything’s possible. But maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe in another 20 years I’m stuck with the bills for tens of thousands of dollars a year in premiums, co-pays, and other health care costs.

I suppose if I hadn’t spent the past half-century or so assuming that the one thing I wouldn’t have to worry about during my golden years was the cost of health care, I might have planned for the expense. Or maybe not. My past ten years doing something meaningful with my life have left me with woefully inadequate retirement savings (though far better than most Americans my age). The point is, The Jeb Plan!™ would leave me at the mercy of the market, without nearly enough time to pack on the additional savings necessary to prepare for the worst. And the worst could be awful.

At the very least, The Jeb Plan!™ imposes uncertainty on the retirements of most Americans. At its worst, it imposes poverty, suffering, and early death.

As for me, I’m not so attached to life that I’m willing to spend myself into pauperdom for the sake of a few more ailing months or years of it. I’d prefer to go out on my own terms, and leave my daughter with a little something to prepare for her own uncertain retirement—maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars and/or a house. Over time, she could build that into a meaningful nest egg, and maybe pass on something to her own kids. (I’m sure Jeb!™ could attest to the virtues of building a little intergenerational wealth.) But I’m not so sure she’s rational enough to embrace my cost-benefit analysis. For some crazy reason, she prefers me alive.

So given the choice between death or poverty, I’ll choose emigrating to Israel once my health starts to deteriorate. Never had much desire even to visit, let alone live there, but as a bar mitzvah-certificated “Goldstein,” they have to take me. And Israel provides its people universal health care… even to oldster recent immigrants like me. That’s my post-Jeb!™ backup plan.

Free health care. Jewish doctors. And, well, it’s a dry heat. What’s not to like?

As for you goyim, well, that’s what you get for electing a silver-spooned free market douchebag like Jeb!™. I mean, it’s not like he’s springing this on you or anything! He says he wants to “phase out” your Medicare! That’s his plan! Give him the White House and a Republican congress, and he’ll do it, too!

Or you could join me in screaming loud and clear: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” Sure, when you think about it, it’s a more than stupid demand. But stupid seems to be the only thing that Republicans like Jeb!™ seem to understand.



David "Goldy" Goldstein has written about politics for The Stranger, The Nation and the Huffington Post. He hosted “The David Goldstein Show” on Seattle’s news/talk 710-KIRO from 2006 through 2008, and has been pissing off readers at his blog HorsesAss.org for more than a decade.