In a New York Times op-ed, my Ethics and Public Policy colleague Yuval Levin offers a simple, excellent idea that offers a way out of our current political impasse on entitlements.
He argues that Medicare and Social Security should be means-tested (e.g., allocating benefits according to need) and explains, with typical intelligence and clarity, why that’s something both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on. He writes:
Some on the left might complain that curtailing our entitlement programs’ universal character would undermine their social purpose and political support. But targeting benefits to those who most need them is surely better than reducing payments to providers (many of whom will drop out of Medicare), as President Obama’s 2010 law does. Some on the right might complain that such reforms would punish success. But surely rewarding achievement with government aid is no one’s idea of conservatism.
I simply want to add that Levin’s proposal not only would save money, which is urgent in and of itself; it would also alter the way we think about entitlement programs. As Levin puts it, means-testing Medicare would begin to treat it “less as a universal earned benefit and more as the transfer program that it effectively is.”
One of the hardest things to do in politics is to alter the way the public perceives things. But it can also be essential, the sine qua non for future reforms. And no institutions are more in need of reforms than our entitlement programs, which is why I hope this idea gets traction.