Why you can't get Social Security if you refuse Medicare.
For all of America's cherished belief in choice and freedom, it remains an astonishing fact that the U.S. government forces citizens over the age of 65 into a subpar health plan of its choosing. And so it is with some hope that we greet a new federal lawsuit that aims to allow senior citizens to flee Medicare.
The suit comes courtesy of Kent Masterson Brown, a lawyer who has previously tangled with the government over Medicare benefits. Mr. Brown represents three plaintiffs who are suing the federal government to be allowed to opt out of Medicare without losing their Social Security benefits.
Amazingly, this is not currently allowed. While the Social Security law does not require participants to accept Medicare, and the Medicare law does not require participants to accept Social Security, the Clinton Administration in 1993 tied the programs together. Under that policy, any senior who withdraws from Medicare also loses Social Security benefits.
Mr. Brown's plaintiffs are three men who do not want to be in Medicare, even though they paid Medicare taxes throughout their income-earning years and though they are not asking for that money back. The three instead saved privately to cover their health care expenses. They now prefer to contract with private doctors and health facilities that they believe are superior to those offered by Medicare.
They don't want to be rationed by a government program facing budget constraints. And they desire, for reasons of privacy, not to have their medical claims in the hands of a federal bureaucracy. One of the plaintiffs, Brian Hall, is a retired federal worker who contributed throughout his career to a health savings account. If required to take Medicare, he will no longer be allowed to make deposits for his medical expenses.
Meanwhile, the three plaintiffs also have contributed considerable sums to the Social Security trust fund. All three understandably want to be paid the monthly retirement benefits that they have duly earned. Yet to do that, they must agree to enroll in Medicare.
The Clinton Administration tied Medicare and Social Security together for the same reason Congress in the 1990s barred Medicare enrollees from supplementing their government care: They don't want a "two-tier" health system. Equity trumps freedom, even if it means poorer care. The Bush Administration has stuck with this misguided policy, despite a need to relieve pressure on runaway entitlement programs. If even 1% of Medicare-eligible retirees voluntarily opted out, Medicare expenditures would decrease by about $1.5 billion a year, and by some $3.5 billion a year by 2017.
The suit itself has strong legal merit. Not only have two Administrations implemented policy that has no root in the applicable laws, their "rules" are no rules at all. Neither Administration bothered to put its extraordinary policies through an official rule-making in which they would have been required to notify the public and invite comments.
Mr. Brown fears the feds will argue they have "administrative remedies" for these situations (say, allowing certain individuals to opt out) and that the suit should therefore be dismissed. No judge should buy it. Mr. Brown has included information from another individual who attempted to disenroll from Medicare by petitioning the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency refused to address his case.
D.C. Circuit Judge Rosemary Collyer should invalidate these policies and ask Congress to clarify the matter. Will Members really argue that prudent Americans shouldn't be allowed to pay for their own medical care or even make their own health-care choices?