The Bush administration’s estimated $400 billion Medicare prescription-drug benefit proposal amounts to little more than a “massive tax hike” in disguise that will result in an “overdose of big government – Republican style,” says the Libertarian Party.

Also, the program is likely to exceed cost projections – much like the Medicare program itself – making it an even bigger burden on future generations, party officials said.

According to a new study cited by the LP, the prescription-drug program is likely to cost Americans over 40 some $16,127 in new taxes over the years, and represents the biggest expansion of entitlement programs since Medicare was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress in 1965.

“The cost of this prescription-drug benefit is already making us sick,” said Joe Seehusen, executive director of the Libertarian Party. “The massively expensive Medicare program spawned by President Lyndon Baines Johnson is spinning totally out of control under President Lyndon Baines Bush.”

President Bush talks about Medicare and medical liability reform during the AMA’s national conference (White House photo).

The House and Senate have passed similar bills to provide some sort of new prescription-drug benefit through the Medicare program. The measures are now being worked out in committee.

Bush marked the 38th anniversary of Medicare with an address July 30, praising the program and pledging to support it.

“Health insurance for elderly and disabled Americans was one of the greatest, most compassionate legislative achievements of the 20th century,” he said. “It spared millions of seniors from needless worry and hardship. Since 1965, every president and every Congress has had the responsibility to uphold the promise of Medicare, and we will uphold our promise. We will do our duty.”

The president said he wants a prescription-drug benefit bill finalized this year.

“Both houses of Congress have passed Medicare improvements that include prescription coverage. Now the House and Senate must iron out the remaining differences and send me a bill,” he said.

Some conservative Republicans balked at the proposal’s price tag, warning the actual cost of providing seniors drug coverage would far exceed the administration’s figures. Other libertarian analysts echoed those concerns.

“Even without a prescription-drug benefit, the cost of Medicare will double as a percentage of GDP by 2040,” writes Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank.

“The program’s unfunded liabilities are more than $13.3 trillion, dwarfing even Social Security’s massive debt,” Tanner said. “Faced with this looming crisis, a more courageous or sensible Congress might have tried to reform this deeply troubled program and bring some restraint to its escalating costs.”

Not everyone sees the new benefit as a liability. An ABC News poll of 1,023 adults conducted late last month found “Americans overwhelmingly support a new federal program to help senior citizens buy prescription drugs,” and “most say they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to fund it.”

The survey said three-quarters support the new program, with 54 percent saying they’d support higher taxes to pay for the coverage. That’s good, say Libertarians, because that’s what the program will amount to.

Citing research by the Heritage Foundation, Seehusen said “the Bush plan will cost a 40-year-old head of household an average of $16,127 in taxes between now and the time he retires.

“And a baby born this year will be forced to pay $1,125 per year in extra taxes at age 27,” he added. “George Bush has just purchased the votes of millions of senior citizens – and he’s going to send the bill to you, your children, and grandchildren.”

In 1965, Seehusen noted, Congress projected Medicare would cost $12 billion annually by 1990. In actuality, the cost has reached $98 billion a year.

“That means Bush’s bill could easily cost an astounding $3.2 trillion in just five years,” he said. “As humorist P.J. O’Rourke has said, ‘If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see how much it costs when it’s free.'”

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