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Greg Hodur, Published May 05 2011

Berg didn’t flat-out fib at meeting, but he wasn’t flat-out honest, either

At the town hall meeting I attended at Bennett school in Fargo on April 27, Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., looked the audience in our collective eyes and said he did not vote to turn Medicare into a voucher program when he voted for the Ryan budget resolution a couple of weeks ago, and he wouldn’t support any proposal to do so in the future. His main defense: The word “voucher” does not appear in the section of the resolution relating to Medicare policy.

I am not saying the congressman lied. I think the more accurate way to describe his comments on Medicare is that he dissembled.

Webster defines “dissemble” as “to hide under a false appearance,” and that, exactly, is what Berg did.

Maybe Berg believes there is something that distinguishes a “premium support payment” from a “voucher” program and he can explain it to us. To me, it’s a distinction without a difference. Whatever you want to call it, the effect would be the same: to end Medicare as we know it.

Instead of guaranteeing coverage for a wide array of doctor, hospital and other health care services when retirees and the disabled need those services, as Medicare does today, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Berg want to give those who become eligible for Medicare in the future a government-determined set amount and make them find their own insurance coverage for the care they need.

Under the Ryan-Berg vision for the future of Medicare, if the “premium support payment” fails to keep up with the pace of health care inflation and you have to pay more out of your own pocket than you can afford on a fixed income for coverage, or if no insurance plan at any price covers all the services you need, or if no insurance company wants to cover you at all because you are older and in poor health, too bad. You got your support payment, that’s your problem.

In essence, if Ryan and Berg get their way, “Medicare” might still exist, but it would be Medicare in name only.

Even children know if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Quite clearly, Berg voted for the duck.

In doing so, he plainly chose to ignore the will of the voters of North Dakota that he protect Medicare and sided with the House Republican leadership and tea party wing of his caucus in an unprecedented and serious assault on a successful program of vital importance to all of us.

Berg should man up and defend that vote and acknowledge the intent behind it, and quit using word games to hide from being held accountable by the voters of North Dakota next time he runs in an election.

Hodur, Fargo, is an occasional contributor to The Forum’s opinion/commentary pages.