(Official Washington Examiner editorial, Jan. 18, 2024)  Give credit to Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL) for trying to reverse a perverse decision by President Joe Biden that forces Social Security recipients to take Medicare benefits even when they don’t want to.

Palmer’s Retirement Freedom Act serves the causes of both individual choice and of fiscal discipline, saving taxpayer dollars while perhaps leading to better health for some elderly people.

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Palmer’s worthwhile effort continues a complicated, 15-year battle. Way back in 1993, bureaucrats in the bowels of the Clinton administration issued an advisory document telling administrators that anybody who accepts the Social Security benefits earned through a lifetime of payroll taxes is not allowed to opt out of Medicare benefits even if the recipient prefers a private healthcare alternative. This would have nothing to do with whether people could avoid paying into Medicare — the pay-in is mandatory, either way — but only whether they could choose to forgo the Medicare benefits provided by taxpayers.

Based not on any specific provision of statutory law but more for ease of administration, the bureaucrats ruled back then that Social Security and Medicare benefits could not be decoupled. To forfeit the latter voluntarily would cause someone to forfeit the former involuntarily, even if it cost the federal Treasury more money. How absurd.

In 2009, a group of plaintiffs led by Republican former House Majority Leader Dick Armey challenged this bizarre interpretation in court. They argued that a senior should be allowed, if he so desires, to pay for his own healthcare, perhaps for better results, without involving Medicare. A district court judge preliminarily indicated Armey was right but then oddly reversed herself. Even more strangely, then-appeals-court Judge Brett Kavanaugh joined truly convoluted reasoning, against a top-notch dissent from a conservative colleague, to uphold the district court judge and the mandatory-Medicare rule. (The Supreme Court declined to review this awful decision.)…. [The full editorial is at this link.]

 

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