Everyone clamored to congratulate native son and former Gov.Mike Leavitt when he ascended to the corridors of power as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Everyone clamored with congratulations again when he switched gears late last year after President Bush appointed him secretary of Health and Human Services. It’s downright strange that we don’t now feel sorry for the poor guy.
Sorry? Oh yes. Leavitt has always been the consummate gentleman, even if his cutthroat self emerged more often than not when it came to wilderness issues and spur-of-the-moment deals with Interior Secretary Gale Norton. This time, we should feel sorry for the man because he’s charged with promoting a Medicare drug benefit designed and endorsed by a madman, our own President George W. Bush. It takes a will of iron not to wince as Leavitt promotes this execrable legislation with one hand holding a microphone. It takes a stomach of steel not to hurl as he condones the prescription plan’s complexity as simply one more thing in life that’s “complicated.”
Chances are good that if you’re under the age of 65, you’re paying more attention to who got voted off the island. The rest of us recall that this was a plan the Republican power masters told us would cost $400 billion when it was passed late in 2003. Within a short two months of passing into law, that estimate climbed to $534 billion. Early this year, a White House budget director revamped the estimate a third time to $724 billion. Even as he attended Leavitt’s swearing-in ceremony as Health and Human Services secretary, Bush thundered down his wrath on anyone who dared rescind his precious Medicare prescription-drug benefit. “Any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors and to take away their prescription-drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto,” he roared.
Like the good free-market Republican Bush claims to be, he could have allowed the Department of Health and Human Services negotiating power with big pharmaceutical companies over drug prices when the benefit plan was being written. No way. And don’t even think of venturing into Canada for a drug discount. So it is that, at the moment, the plan’s estimated cost over the next 10 years stands at a towering $858 billion. And because taxpayers who fund the plan live at the mercy of whatever pharmaceutical companies feel like charging the government for this laughable piece of government policy, don’t be surprised if the price tag climbs ever higher.
Like a used-car salesman in a lot full of lemons, Leavitt not only has to justify the plan’s dizzying array of 40 options. He’s got the unenviable task of justifying its ridiculous price. Don’t be surprised if in his heart of hearts, he’s actually grateful for such a diversionary topic as the threat of avian flu.
The fact that such bad government policy saw the light of day speaks to several problems. The first is that young people in this country rarely vote, happily ceding all power to seniors who show up at the polls. Instead the young will watch their tax rates climb as interest rates soar to cover the cost of this insanity when the bill comes due. The second problem left unaddressed is the growing mass of Americans'45 million and counting'left without health insurance. Bush’s Medicare prescription benefit does nothing for these people, or the fact that health-care costs are on record to consume 16 percent of our national economy.
If Leavitt had any conscience, he’d throttle his boss, put down that silly microphone and tell everyone to wake up. Instead, his famous Utah smile has never been wider.