How warped is the system?

WASHINGTON, DC – October 22 – Sometimes these days, the system is so
warped, the best way to deal with it is to get a little warped oneself.
October 14, a matter was brought to the attention of many by a mass
emailing from Ed Crane, founder and president of the esteemed and
conservative think tank, the Cato Institute. It read in part:

“I try not to bother you with extraneous material, but my good friend
and Cato Board member Lew Randall is involved with a very important
project that could use some help. As he notes, this is a 501(c)(3 )
organization and thus tax deductible (and okay for me to plug!). Take a
moment to read this over to see if you might want to lend a hand. You'd
think that in the land of the free, paying for our own health care ought
to be legal. Thanks for your consideration.”

Without an unprecedented endorsement by somebody as cautious as Crane,
the email would have passed for another Nigerian spam scam. It seems
Norm Rogers, Brian Hall, and Randall are “filing suit against the
Medicare bureaucracy in an attempt to establish our constitutional right
to pay for our own health care with our own money.”

Papers for Brian Hall, et al. v. Michael Leavitt, et al. were filed in
the Washington, DC US District Court on October 9. The plaintiffs charge
that the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Health
and Human Services
(DHH) “improperly adopted illegal and coercive
policies that deny otherwise eligible retirees their rightful Social
Security benefits if those retirees choose not to enroll in Medicare.”
With its establishment under the Social Security Amendment of 1965,
Medicare was supposed to be a voluntary program, available to – not
mandatory for – eligible applicants. In addition to appealing for
personal choice, the papers allege the bureaucracies broke the law, did
not follow due process, violated the Constitution, and discriminated
against retirees.

The plaintiffs allege that in 1993 and 2002 the SSA issued new rules.
Whereas before persons had to fill out an application to receive
Medicare, the revisions force anybody opting out of Medicare Part A
(hospitalization) to forfeit their Social Security retirement benefits.
The plaintiffs allege, “The rules were promulgated without being
published beforehand in the Federal Register and without benefit of
public comment.” The Clinton and Bush administrations are being accused
of violating procedures to violate the 1965 legislation.

At a more fundamental level, the plaintiffs charge that mandatory
enrollment in Medicare violates Article I, Section 1 of the
Constitution. Further, “Forced participation in Medicare infringes on a
citizen’s right to privacy and to make necessary choices about his or
her own health care, and, accordingly, violates the First, Fourth,
Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.” Since the
only legal way Hall, Rogers, and Randall can opt out of using taxpayer
dollars to pay for their hospitalization is to forfeit their Social
Security benefits, they’re going to court.

Other parties who have attempted to opt out have gotten letters from the
SSA saying the bureaucracy was “not going to make a determination” about
their request. An affidavit from David A. Nelson is included with the
filed suit. When applying for Retirement Insurance Benefits at the SSA
in Albany, Oregon, he told the clerical staff he refused to participate
in Medicare Part A, and he redlined all language pertaining to
enrollment in the program on the forms he signed. He maintained his
position in two followup phone calls with the SSA. After considerable
subsequent red tape, he was told his enrollment in Medicare was “automatic.”

The litigants claim they are capable of paying their own medical bills.
They do not want to be forced to participate in the Medicare entitlement
. They claim services provided under the program would be
inferior to those they would otherwise receive, and are made available
as a function of government funding. In other words, they are
“effectively rationed.”

Medicare expenditures for 2007 totaled $432 billion, and the program is
projected to be insolvent by 2017. The plaintiffs believe if just 1% of
retirees opt out, the program could save $1.5 billion in the first year.
The first Baby Boomers will become eligible for Medicare benefits in 2010.

Though the three retirees are capable of paying their own medical bills,
they are not capable of paying the legal fees to fight for their freedom
to do so. They therefore set up a 501(c)(3) charity, the Fund for
Personal Liberty. Donations may be sent to the fund at the offices of
the plaintiffs’ legal representation, Webster Chamberlain & Bean, 1747
Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. Randall jests
this might not be “a high priority on your list of philanthropies,” but
others are quick to note the donations are tax-deductable.
Leslee Kulba is a Tribune Staff writer