Last week, the Tulsa World reported on statements made by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., after the legislator said he believes that government programs like Medicare are to blame for the nation's rapidly rising health care costs, and that Medicare has worsened the medical system.
According to the World's article, Coburn stated that before Medicare, “communities worked together to make sure that most people received needed medical attention” while acknowledging that some “people received poor care — or no care,” and that “doctors and hospitals often went unpaid for their efforts, or accepted baked goods or chickens in partial payment.”
If Coburn is nostalgic for such a system, then let us pay him and the rest of Congress with chickens.
When Congress was debating Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system, very little mention was made that Congress’ health care would not be affected. The average 72 percent subsidy that taxpayers provide to pay for Congress’ health insurance was also rarely mentioned.
Congress can blithely ignore the harm their legislation inflicts on the general public because a majority of our elected representatives have no skin in the game.
When Congress debated changes to Social Security, they did not discuss modifying their extremely generous pension plan where taxpayers pay 80 percent of congressional benefits.
Tea partier Rick Scott became governor of Florida in January. Since Scott took office, Florida has eliminated 1,300 public employees' jobs with plans to terminate another 3,100 positions.
For new public employees, the retirement age will increase three to five years depending on position, and pension vesting will take an extra two years. There have been substantial cuts in education.
State college tuition costs have increased by 8 percent. A program that provides medical care to low-income children has lost $13 million in funding.
Medicaid payments rates have been reduced by 12 percent and 6.5 percent to hospitals and nursing homes, respectively.
Even with a $3.7 billion deficit for the year, and the second-highest rate of people without health insurance, Florida did not find it necessary to accept money from the federal government and rejected about $54 million to fund various medical and wellness programs.
Nevertheless, Florida has managed to shield its high-ranking officials from the pain caused by its draconian cuts in spending and its refusal to accept federal money.
Gov. Scott, and about 32,000 of these high-ranking officials pay only $30 per month ($360 per year) for health insurance to cover themselves and their families. This subsidy costs Floridians an extra $15.6 million to $57.6 million per year.
Florida’s other 144,000 employees pay $180 per month to cover themselves and their families, so the $32,000-a-year administrative assistant pays six times more for health insurance than the governor, whose salary would be over $132,000 if he accepted pay. (Scott, a multimillionaire, agreed to forgo a paycheck from Florida.)
Retired employees get no subsidy and pay $1,243 per month for health insurance.
As the preceding illustrates, our elected officials seem to have no problem avoiding the consequences of their legislative endeavors.
To prevent further abuses of power, taxpayers must insist on the following from their representatives:
- No medical benefits or health insurance benefits can be granted or funded by elected officials unless the same benefits are granted to the general public.
- Any pension benefits elected officials grant to themselves must also be granted to the general public.
- If the pension benefits to public employees are reduced, then the pension benefits of elected officials shall be reduced by an equivalent amount
Elected officials must learn to live with the consequences of their decisions for their constituents.
Otherwise, we can always implement Sen. Coburn’s suggestion and provide Congress with a chicken in every paycheck.
Joseph Sparks is a master's candidate in MU's School of Journalism. He is planning a career in public relations.