In his second news conference in a week, President Barack Obama said he is “willing to look at” a number of ways to reduce health care spending, including provider cuts and changing the eligibility age for Medicare. But he dismissed the Republican approach, saying “it’s not necessary to completely revamp” Medicare to deal with the deficit and the debt ceiling.
President Barack Obama:
And so during the course of these discussions with congressional leaders, what I’ve tried to emphasize is we have a unique opportunity to do something big. We have a chance to stabilize America’s finances for a decade, for 15 years or 20 years, if we’re willing to seize the moment.
Now, what that would require would be some shared sacrifice and a balanced approach that says, “We’re going to make significant cuts in domestic spending.” And I have already said I am willing to take down domestic spending to the lowest percentage of our overall economy since Dwight Eisenhower. It would require us taking on health care spending. And that includes looking at Medicare and finding ways that we can stabilize the system so that it is available not just for this generation but for future generations.
Jake Tapper, ABC News: In the interest of transparency, leadership and also showing the American people that you have been negotiating in good faith, can you tell us one structural reform that you are willing to make to one of these entitlement programs that would have a major impact on the deficit? Would you be willing to raise the retirement age? Would you be willing to means test Social Security or Medicare?
President Obama: We’ve said that we are willing to look at all those approaches. I’ve laid out some criteria in terms of what would be acceptable. So, for example, I’ve said very clearly that we should make sure that current beneficiaries as much as possible are not affected. But we should look at what can we do in the out-years so that over time some of these programs are more sustainable.
I’ve said that means testing on Medicare, meaning people like myself, you know, I’m going to be turning 50 in a week, so I’m starting to think a little bit more about Medicare eligibility. (laughter)
Yeah, I’m going to get my AARP card soon and the discounts.
But the — you know, you can envision a situation where for somebody in my position, me having to pay a little bit more on premiums or co-pays or things like that would be appropriate. And again, that could make a difference. So we’ve been very clear about where we’re willing to go.
What we’re not willing to do is to restructure the program in the ways that we’ve seen coming out of the House over the last several months, where we would voucher-ize the program and you’d potentially have senior citizens paying $6,000 more.
I view Social Security and Medicare as the most important social safety nets that we have. I think it is important for them to remain as social insurance programs that give people some certainty and reliability in their golden years.
But it turns out that making some modest modifications in those entitlements can save you trillions of dollars.
And it’s not necessary to completely revamp the program. What is necessary is to say, you know, “How do we make some modifications?” Including, by the way, on the provider side. I think that it’s important for us to keep in mind that, you know, the drug companies, for example, are still doing very well through the Medicare program. And although we have made drugs more available at a cheaper price to seniors who are in Medicare through the Affordable Care Act, there’s more work to potentially be done there.
So if you look at a balanced package even within the entitlement programs, it turns out that you can save trillions of dollars while maintaining the core integrity of the program.