Monday, October 05, 2009

Must seniors be forced to accept Medicare?

The WSJ reports on a case wending its way through the federal courts in which the plaintiffs want to opt out of Medicare. At issue are rules, called POMS, that the Clinton administration put in saying that you can't get Social Security benefits if you decide to opt out of Medicare. The first federal court hearing their case decided in their favor.
n her ruling this week, the judge said that "neither the statute nor the regulation specifies that Plaintiffs must withdraw from Social Security and repay retirement benefits in order to withdraw from Medicare." Article I of the Constitution gives Congress sole power to legislate—so when agency rules conflict with federal statute, the statute takes precedence.

The Obama Administration argued that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs had not exhausted the available administrative remedies for challenging POMS. Judge Collyer rejected that notion, noting that one plaintiff had sought an administrative hearing but "received no response from the SSA for approximately three years." Exhaustion of remedies was therefore "futile." A three-year wait is precisely the kind of bureaucratic hassle, or deliberate stonewalling, that government is famous for.

Keep in mind that the plaintiffs are merely asking for the freedom to spend their own money for their own health insurance. With Medicare careening toward bankruptcy, letting seniors opt out could help save the taxpayers money. The plaintiffs argue, and reasonably so, that they have paid a lifetime of taxes into Social Security and shouldn't have those benefits denied merely because they are willing to pay for their own medical care. Social Security and Medicare are separate programs, and both are financed by separate payroll contributions.
The Obama administration doesn't want to let go of any seniors from Medicare so they're contesting this suit.
The response of the Obama Administration to this lawsuit is revealing about its principles, as opposed to its rhetoric. President Obama says his plan for a "public option" wouldn't be coercive, saying that "If you like your health-care plan, you keep your health-care plan. Nobody is going to force you to leave your health-care plan." But here is a case where federal bureaucrats are using their power to force Medicare on seniors. Let's hope the courts restore a genuine right to choose.
There isn't even an argument here that we need the seniors paying into the system like we need young people to be mandated to buy a plan. This suit involves seniors who don't want Medicare, thus saving the government the cost of their health care. But the federal government just can't let anyone go.

If this suit has further success, watch for the Democrats in Congress to quick legislate the POMS regulations into law.