Democrat Senator Likens Unfunded Medicare Costs to Nazi Air Force Attacking Britain

Josiah Ryan | May 5, 2009 | 10:03am EDT
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( - Unfunded health care liabilities such as Medicare pose a threat to the fiscal survival of the country and will make the current recession pale in comparison if they are not quickly addressed, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.
The Rhode Island Democrat, an advocate of President Obama’s health care reform plan, took part in a discussion on health information technology at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
“The health care tsunami that is coming at us is something we should all be gravely concerned about because it fundamentally threatens the fiscal survival of our country and we have to get ahead of it,” Whitehouse told
“We have to view ourselves like RAF [Royal Air Force] pilots and the radar has just lit up that Luftwaffe is coming at us, and we have got to scramble to get into the air as fast as we can because the system is headed towards a terrible calamity if we don’t. We have set zero dollars aside to pay for a $35-trillion liability for Medicare,” he warned.
However, a scholar from the conservative Heritage Foundation warned that more spending could mire the U.S. in deeper debt while failing to cover the cost of unfunded health care liabilities.
‘That $35 trillion dollars and the rest of the healthcare expenses associated with this will hit us in ways that make the financial meltdown we are just beginning to emerge from look like a picnic,” Whitehouse told after the speech.
Whitehouse said he advocates a major investment in the health care system. “We have very simple choices,” he said: “One is to do nothing,” and the other is to “design our way out of this and build the infrastructure that will allow American ingenuity and innovation to flourish.”
Whitehouse said the second choice requires “some upfront investment,” given the “market failures that have prevented the private sector from making those investments.”
Greg D’Angelo, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told on Monday it is unlikely that further government spending will avert the crisis that Whitehouse anticipates.
“I think there is zero proof that any of the so-called investment would actually reduce health care cost in the long term or bring Medicare's fiscal unbalance under control,” DAngelo told “The government is very good at promising things it can’t deliver. It seems to me that those proposals are another elegant exercise in wishful thinking.”
“He [Whitehouse] is all about spending more, and basically he has a lot of faith in altering government payment methodologies,” said DAngelo. “I think there is plenty of money in the system already, and throwing more good money after bad is not the right way.”
Dumping more money into the system and putting more faith in government to deliver on what it already has a poor record of delivering on is just bordering insanity, said DAngelo. “We know where they are going. We know their track record. They have already made it clear they believe that more government is the answer. I believe that less government is the answer.”
Even Whitehouse admitted that a major investment – necessary in his view – may be risky.
“It could be a failure and it could never become revenue-neutral,” Whitehouse told “It could be just expensive equipment sitting around on desks not accomplishing anything. It could, on the other hand, be a transformation of how we deliver health care that makes it a lot less expensive.”
President Barack Obama included a $634 billion health care reserve fund in his $3.67-trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2010. Some of the funding will come from improved efficiencies in Medicare and Medicaid, the White House says.
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