Medicare Should Cover Glasses, Hearing Aids and Dental Work

Our subject today is Congressman Grayson's recent bold statement that Medicare should cover glasses, hearing aids and dental work, because, as he put it, "most seniors have eyes, ears and teeth." But before we get to that, we just want to remind you that today is the last day to qualify for a chance to join Alan at Disney World next month by contributing $25 or more to his re-election campaign. We now return to our regularly scheduled commercial programming.

A couple of weeks ago, key progressive officials joined a conference call with grassroots leaders about how to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from Republican benefit cuts like the so-called "chained CPI." Earlier this week, we shared Congressman Grayson's statement on that call with you. Now, here is some of the Q&A:

Adam [PCCC]: We have a question from William Packson's e-mail [address], in Congressman Grayson's home state. He says:

"I am receiving $11,208 per year [in Social Security], out of which I must pay medical bills, rent, food, utilities, transportation, and prescriptions. As it is, there is not enough to pay for all necessities. What is Congress planning on doing to the cost of living adjustments?"

Congressman, would you like to take that first?

Alan: Well, sure. Unfortunately, there are Members of Congress, who are called Republicans, who are planning cuts to cost of living adjustments. The "chained CPI" is fakery that will recalculate the cost of living adjustments – basically with the idea that if the cost of gasoline doubles, that [somehow] doesn't represent a doubling in the cost of living, because some people will have to walk to work, not being able to afford gasoline. So they put more shoe leather into the calculation, and less gas. It's just cheating. I laid this out in an email I sent around, in a blog post a few weeks ago. [As I said,] they are just trying to baffle us with "you-know-what." It's not fair. It doesn't fully reflect the increase of the cost of living. And it's a shame, because as the caller points out, right now the money you get from Social Security isn't even enough to raise you above the poverty level. We are not giving our seniors enough to live above the poverty level. Imagine what it would be like if they got less. (And I'm saying "less" in some real sense.) So I think it's unconscionable.

I don't know exactly why Republicans feel the same way about cutting Social Security and Medicare like the way a moth feels about a flame. I don't understand that, but we have to deal with it.

The Sequester is in danger of becoming the latest excuse for giving rein to this desire to hurt old people, hurt poor people, hurt sick people -- and we just can't allow it. We've got a system that accurately assesses cost of living increases, and we have to protect it from attacks by the other side. . . .

Peter King [CBS News]: Okay. Thank you very much. I'm actually based out of Orlando, which is Congressman Grayson's home state. And you know this is obviously a very partisan position, and the message here is very much Democrats versus Republicans. . . . [I]s there anything here that you would be willing to compromise [on] at all? I mean Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid are all really broad programs. And there is arguably a lot of waste in some of these programs. Just wondering to see if there is anything you could move an inch or a foot on here, to get rolling? . . .

Alan: Well first, it used to be that there was consensus on this. It used to be that Democrats and Republicans agreed that there should not be cuts to benefits for Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare – and that's changed. People used to regard Social Security as the "third rail" in American politics. You've probably heard that phrase before. [The "third rail" is the subway rail that carries electricity, and can electrocute you.] But now, Republicans are not only touching the third rail, they are dancing on it. And that's unfortunate. You know, Reagan used to say 'I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.' I think there are probably a lot of Republicans in the country, particularly seniors, who are scratching their heads and saying, 'I didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me.' By this unquenchable thirst right now to hurt the needy. To hurt seniors, poor people, people who need medical care and just want to see a doctor when they are sick. It's not consistent with the original conception of Republicanism, of conservatism. We are trying to conserve these programs -- you'd think that "conservatives" would be with us.

But to get to your question, I will tell you this: I think you can eliminate fraud [without breaking the "No Cuts" pledge]. You can eliminate waste, you can eliminate abuse – and in no sense would you break this promise. This is a promise that is very clear. It's that we are going to "vote against any and every cut against Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits." Benefits – that's what the recipients actually see. If they're in Medicare and they go to a doctor that means there are major procedures that are covered, and those are not going to change.

If we can eliminate or reduce waste, fraud and abuse of these programs, that doesn't change their benefits. If we can run the program more efficiently, that doesn't change their benefits. If we change the [taxation] payment plan, the Social Security tax, the Medicare tax, that doesn't change the benefits. If we change what doctors get paid for procedures, that [change] doesn't change the benefits, either. It's what the recipients see [that matters].

You know, we can't ask people to pay into these programs year after year, decade after decade, and then when it's their turn, we say to them, "Well, you know, the law was that you had to be sixty-five [to qualify], but now you have to seventy-two." That's not fair. It wouldn't be fair if the private entity did it. It wouldn't be fair if the government did it, either.

So the answer to your question is 'yes.' Of course you can make changes [that are not benefit cuts] to the program, and then make the program better. I'd like to see Medicare cover eyewear. I'd like to see it cover hearing aids. I'd like to see it cover dental work. As far as I know, most seniors have eyes, ears and teeth. [Laughs.] I think these things should be covered. I'd like to move in that direction. That would improve these programs. But in terms of cutting benefits, no – that's not fair.

Isn't it about time that someone said that we should be perfecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not cutting them? Well, someone just did.

If you would like a chance to join that special someone in Orlando, then please click here. Last chance, last dance, last romance.

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