Frank Underwood and Social Insurance

Like much of DC, I spent far too much time this three day weekend complaining avoiding the cold, curled up with Netflix and books. Of course, this meant Season 2 of House of Cards. Somehow, due to David’s discipline and my poor tolerance for edge-of-your-seat drama, we’re on pace for an episode a day, and just watched VP Underwood secure the Senate vote for entitlement reform.

I’m not sure if the entitlement reform issue will last beyond Episode 3, but I’ve found myself thinking about it all afternoon.

It’s rumored that President Obama once said he wishes things in Washington were as ruthlessly efficient as on the show. Watching the first season, I found myself similarly surprised with swift management of fake Washington-education reform complete in a few weeks! Imagine!

However, while I generally remind myself the show is fiction after the horrifying, twisted plot lines of the character’s personal lives, I found myself repeating the “it’s ok, it’s just a made up story” line after a policy twist. The administration and Democratic leadership’s comfort with raising the retirement age-and the ruthlessly efficient parliamentary procedure to accomplish that goal-made me grateful, once again, to live in real DC and not Underwood’s Washington.

Thankfully, in the real world, it does not look like the President would jump from rehearsing a speech about protecting health and retirement benefits one morning, to a SOTU commitment to raise retirement later that week. And for good reason. While never mentioned on the show, it’s largely recognized that raising the retirement age simply doesn’t make sense. Obviously, delaying the retirement age hurts seniors. For Medicare, most seniors would face higher out of pocket costs. Communities of color would be thehardest hit due to lower lifetime earnings and shorter life expectancy. (See this brief for more info).

Unfortunately, the facts on senior harm are rarely enough to refute decades of Pete Peterson hype about entitlements and federal debt. Despite the fact the two are unrelated, the simple truth is that raising the retirement age will be quite detrimental to state and private sector costs, with a minimal impact on the federal government.

An issue brief from the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations a sums it up nicely:

“Raising the Medicare eligibility age would increase overall health spending. With respect to savings, increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67 only benefits the federal government. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities conclude that ‘increased state and private-sector costs would be twice as large as the net federal savings.’ If the proposal were fully in effect in 2014, KFF estimates, the proposal would generate $5.7 billion in net federal savings but $11.4 billion in higher health costs to individuals, employers, and the states.’ As such, raising the Medicare eligibility age further compounds the overarching problem of system-wide health care inflation.”

I have to wait till tomorrow to watch Episode 4, but I’m hoping for more discussion with the House vote, and not total complacency on bad policy.

For now, I’ll return to 30 Rock re-runs, my general cure for a mind-warping, intense House of Cards episode.

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Filed under Health Care, Seniors

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