GOP policymaker calls for attention to healthcare

by Alex Belser and Kevin Garland | 10/22/04 5:00am

Healthcare and Social Security need attention, and they need it quickly. That was the message relayed by a Bush economic policymaker who visited Dartmouth Thursday.

Mark J. Warshawsky, assistant secretary for Economic Policy in the Treasury Department, was introduced with the premise that he would not speak about politics, but rather policy issues.

Warshawsky, however, never strayed far from politics, occasionally describing the advantages of the Bush administration's healthcare and social security programs.

"Each year that passes without reform increases your burden," Warshawsky told the audience.

Health care and Social Security are among the issues being debated in the presidential race, with Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry calling for the Bush tax cuts to be rescinded to help fund healthcare, and President Bush advocating the privatization of Social Security.

Warshawsky said a government report shows a $3.7 trillion obligation for Social Security that will be due over the next 75 years, but presently has no source of funding. Meanwhile, he said Medicare is in even worse financial shape.

Throughout his speech, Warshawsky cited reports noting how relatively large payroll tax hikes could eliminate problems with parts of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, but he also noted that the Bush plan would not increase taxes.

Warshawsky told The Dartmouth that's because the administration believes tax increases put money in trust funds that don't work.

Despite Washington political deadlock, Warshawsky says he believes progress can be made with entitlement programs through open discussion.

"Nothing happens in Washington unless citizens are concerned," he said.

The John Kerry camp takes a different perspective, stating on its website that Kerry will never privatize social security, something the Bush Administration plans to do with Personal Retirement Accounts.

Warshawsky talked about PRAs as a solution for Social Security and a way to put more control in the people's hands by allowing them to save for their own retirements.

On Medicare, Warshawsky said it might be possible to slow the growth of program costs by controlling the rise in overall healthcare costs.

He cited a study by Dartmouth researchers showing that regions of the United States that spend more money on health care doesn't necessarily produce healthier people.

Warshawsky also lauded the recently-passed controversial prescription drug benefit for seniors. "We all feel, and I think this is a bipartisan viewpoint, that this is a big, big hole in the system," he said.

Warshawsky was appointed to his current position in March after two years in the Treasury Department and work at the investment management company TIAA-CREF.