As if the Democrats' proposed health care bill is not enough to send a person to the urgent care clinic, there is a lesser-known move that has garnered attention among those concerned about the growing entitlement burden: the House voted this week to approve a package which would eliminate the “Medicare trigger.”
The trigger was passed in 2003 as part of the Medicare Modernization Act. In simple terms, it is a “red flag” that forces Congress and the President to act if 45 percent or more of the Medicare program's funding comes from general revenues over two consecutive years. (Medicare is also funded with payroll taxes and seniors' premium payments). Last year was the second year that Medicare's funding exceeded the 45 percent limit. Thus, President Bush was required to submit legislation to Congress to reduce Medicare spending over a seven-year period.
As I think about it, the Medicare
trigger could be compared to dieting. When I step on the scale and it tells me that I have exceeded my desired weight (for the purpose of my dignity, I won't disclose what that weight is), that information “triggers” me to deal with excess poundage by devising a plan. It may include a few more hours on the bike or fewer trips to the candy jar on my coworker's desk. But with persistence, that plan will hopefully help me to get my weight back under control. If I ignore my scale, I do so at my own peril and face possible health problems down the road, as well as a wardrobe that no longer fits.
But Congress is doing more than ignoring the trigger; they are eliminating it. Medicare currently has an unfunded liability of nearly $89 trilliion. If Medicare were human, a gastric bypass would most certainly be in order. But as it stands now, Congress will stuff it with wasteful spending and watch it grow sicker and sicker.