The Medicare program, which provides health insurance to the nation’s almost 60 million seniors and disabled, is going broke. According to the most recent Medicare Trustees’ Report, the hospital insurance program will face “insolvency” in 2026 when the program spending exceeds incoming payroll taxes.
That is why Americans should be appalled to learn that the current program rules financially penalize seniors who leave the program. Under current administrative rules, a senior who exits the Medicare program must also forgo all Social Security benefit payments, including those received in previous years. This is nothing short of a financial trap that most of our nation’s seniors, even those who have financial resources, cannot escape.
What is also shocking is that there is no law forcing seniors to forgo their Social Security benefits if they leave the Medicare program. There has never been an executive order or congressional law imposing this steep penalty. Rather, it is the result of a Clinton-era administrative rule that never had public discussion or congressional deliberation before being imposed on our nation’s seniors—essentially converting what should be a voluntary program into a mandatory one except for those who could afford to relinquish all of their Social Security benefits and repay those they had received up to that time.
There are currently two efforts to address this travesty. The first is an online petition, “Freedom to NOT CHOOSE Medicare,” launched by the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom (CCHF).
“Making this change will have NO impact on those who have enrolled, wish to stay enrolled, or want to enroll in Medicare in the future,” said CCHF President Twila Brase. “It simply allows senior citizens to collect their rightful Social Security benefits without being required to enroll in, or remain enrolled in, Medicare Part A.”
A letter signed by dozens of think tanks and advocacy organizations across the country sent to the president in November explains that because this rule is not a law, but “an internal, subregulatory instruction inserted into a program operations manual without congressional authorization, and without public notice-and-comment rulemaking.” It can be reversed through executive action, which means the president has the authority to reverse it.
The second avenue for rectifying this is The Retirement Freedom Act. The legislation sponsored by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) allows seniors to opt out of Medicare Part A without forcing them to forgo their Social Security benefits.
Reforming the nation’s Medicare program should be a top priority for lawmakers in Washington. Unfortunately, most of the political discussions revolve around doubling down on this unsustainable program. Meanwhile, administrative rules are limiting seniors’ ability to leave the program to meet their needs and preferences on their own.
Short of structural reform, lawmakers should acknowledge the inherent unfairness of creating financial hostages out of our nation’s seniors. No senior should lose their Social Security benefits if they choose to opt out of Medicare and seek coverage on their own.
Americans who want to spend their own money on their own healthcare — at no cost to taxpayers — should be free to do so without financial threat or bureaucratic obstacles. The president and Congress have the authority to restore that freedom, liberating the nation’s seniors from the Medicare trap. They should do so now.
Naomi Lopez Bauman is director of healthcare policy at the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based nonprofit aimed at promoting limited government.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.