Everyone's hooting and hollering about the high costs of Medicare, but they haven't seen nothin' yet.
In 2003, our politicians, headed by the president, pushed through a massive new entitlement that will cover the cost of prescription drugs for folks over 65. The idea, apparently, was to win votes from elderly folks who hardly ever miss heading to the polls.
While our politicians debated the bill, Bush estimated the drug program would cost $400 billion over a 10-year period. He later revised that number to $534 billion. But both numbers were not entirely accurate.
This is because the Bush folks used a 10-year period that included 2004 and 2005, though the costs of the new entitlement don't kick in until 2006. In other words, only eight of the 10 years covered in the first estimate required taxpayers to cover the sizable cost of drugs.
Last week the Medicare people released a new 10-year estimate of $720 billion. This number is much larger than the first estimate because it begins in 2006, when the drug entitlement becomes fully active, and runs though 2015.
Opportunist Democrats jumped all over the huge price tag, accusing Bush of incompetence, lying and the regular stuff. But as usual they, and a lot of other Washington types, are missing the real problem with Medicare spending.
The real problem is Viagra.
Thanks to the generosity of our entitlement entities, Medicare will cover the cost of a host of FDA approved drugs beginning in 2006. Believe it or not, the coverage includes "impotence agents," such as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. The Medicare folks say if a drug is FDA approved, then Medicare has to cover it.
Sure, they promise there will be controls in place to prevent abuse. But "control" in federal-government-speak means "pretty soon we'll be handing these things out on street corners by the bushel."
And with good reason. What Washington politician is going to have the courage to curtail anything that has to do with Viagra?
"Once you create a universal entitlement," says Robert E. Moffit, a health care analyst at the Heritage Foundation, "the tendency is for that entitlement to expand."
He said it, not I.
And he's right. Currently, America spends about $1 billion a year on enhancement drugs, but that is mostly with their own dough. What will happen in 2014, when the huge baby-boom generation is retiring in huge numbers and millions more will be covered under Medicare?
A little prediction: if you think America's elderly wives are spending too much time at the mall now, wait until their husbands' libidos are rekindled by the largesse of the good ole U.S. of A.
Who knows where this is all going to end. If the government's going to underwrite Viagra, then what medication won't they underwrite? And when our pharmaceutical firms start finding clever ways to exploit the meaning of "medically necessary," what won't be covered?
Even now, before the party has kicked into high gear, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the cost of the Medicare drug entitlement could reach $2 trillion during its second decade. That's $200 billion a year versus $70 billion a year during its first decade.
That means we have a pressure-cooker of a problem just waiting to explode -- just waiting to burden future generations with ever-increasing costs. That's why some argue that this bill is a train wreck waiting to happen and that the only reasonable thing to do is modify it before it's too late.
I have a better idea. I'm going to buy stock in Viagra. Once Uncle Sam starts pimping the stuff for free, I'll surely enjoy a sizable return.
And I'll need every penny to cover my taxes, which are going to soar now that the government has got into the romance business.