Last week, the Medicare Rights Center explained how the House majority’s budget plan for 2019 would fundamentally restructure Medicare and Medicaid, slashing more than $2.1 trillion from the programs over 10 years. Though this approach is not unexpected—as lawmakers promised to use deficits created by last year’s tax bill as an excuse to pursue such cuts—it is extremely troubling.
This week, Medicare Rights and the Center for Medicare Advocacy highlighted our concerns in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, noting, in part, that “Placing the burden of paying for the tax bill onto older adults and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare and Medicaid is unconscionable.”
Days later, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirmed that last year’s tax bill will add $1.84 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, ensuring that Medicare will remain under threat for years to come.
In its long-term budget outlook, CBO projects that over the next 30 years, debt levels will rise to “the highest in the nation’s history by far.” The agency notes that if Congress extends the individual tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of 2025—as Republican leaders have said they plan to do—debt would grow even faster. Lawmakers set those rates to expire to bring the tax bill into compliance with Senate rules that allowed it to pass using the fast-tracked, filibuster-proof reconciliation process. This outlook, CBO writes, “poses substantial risks for the nation and presents policymakers with significant challenges.”
While we recognize the need to address our nation’s fiscal and demographic realities, we caution that undermining critical programs on which older adults and people with disabilities rely—including Medicare and Medicaid—will only leave us less prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Rising deficits must not provide cover for drastic changes to these programs, or for shifting costs onto beneficiaries. Instead, we urge policymakers to pursue balanced, fiscally responsible solutions that seek to build and maintain the health and economic security of all Americans.