There are only so many ways to parse ‘privatize’

THERE ARE ONLY SO MANY WAYS TO PARSE ‘PRIVATIZE’…. Five years ago, one of the more annoying aspects of the debate over Social Security privatization was fighting over the word “privatization.” Apparently, the “p” word doesn’t poll well, so the Bush White House and its allies had to engage in rhetorical acrobatics.

We’re not trying to privatize Social Security, they said, we simply want to overhaul the program so that Americans put their money into private accounts instead of the Social Security system. Who said anything about privatization?

It was only a matter of time before these same Republicans tried a similar line on Medicare.

Faced with growing public skepticism of House Republicans’ plans to privatize Medicare, Speaker John Boehner claimed Wednesday that the GOP’s Medicare privatization plan doesn’t privatize Medicare.

“There’s no privatizing of Medicare,” Boehner said. “We’re transforming Medicare so that it’ll be there for the future.”

I guess the “p” word still doesn’t poll well.

I can appreciate the Speaker’s desire to spin this, but reality is stubborn. As we discussed last week, Medicare is very easy to understand — it’s a popular system of socialized, single-payer health care for seniors. Beneficiaries love it, and the system works pretty well.

The House Republican scheme for Medicare is a little more complicated, but still pretty straightforward — the GOP intends to eliminate the existing program and privatize it. The resulting system would, ironically, look quite a bit like the Affordable Care Act, with seniors entering exchanges, where they would take a subsidy to purchase private insurance. (The voucher wouldn’t keep up with costs, increasing the financial burden on the elderly.)

This is the definition of “privatization.” Indeed, If Boehner doesn’t think his own caucus’ plan constitutes “privatization,” what, pray tell, does he think privatization would look like?

My concern going forward is that the media will screw this up. News organizations won’t want to use the “p” word because Republicans, reality notwithstanding, say the word isn’t accurate. The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often cowed into using politician-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions.