November 10, 2003

November 10, 2003 | WebMemo on Health Care

Hypo-Hypocrites on The Hill

Is there such a word as a hypo-hypocrite? If not, we might have to invent it to describe federal lawmakers who want to help Medicare patients get prescription drug coverage-provided they don't buy it on the open market.

Washington lawmakers negotiating details on a Medicare bill to send to President Bush are stuck on a key point: Whether to allow private insurance companies to compete with an aging Great Society program for older patients. Lawmakers who oppose offering seniors support for them to buy private-sector coverage options are hypocrites twice over, or hypo-hypocrites.

The first glaring hypocrisy came last summer, after both houses of Congress approved separate versions of a Medicare bill. At that time, the House quickly passed a measure that will guarantee federal retirees-including retired members of Congress-the prescription drug benefits they already receive from their personally chosen plans. Some senators later sponsored similar legislation. That means whatever lawmakers do to Medicare, it won't mess up the health plan that most lawmakers already use, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

That leads us to the second hypocrisy. The superior FEHBP approach that lawmakers want to preserve for their own retirements has worked effectively since 1960 precisely because it's based on the right to choose and productive private-sector competition. We can imagine the dictionary entry now…Hypo-hypocrite: See congressional Medicare "reformers."

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