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USA Today Gets it Right on Medicare

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 Here is one of the best editorials describing the facts about health care reform and seniors we've seen in the main stream media.  It's well worth a read...share it with your friends.  Kudos to USA TODAY for taking the time to get past the rhetoric and spin to provide seniors the truth about health care reform.

USA TODAY EDITORIAL:

Our view on medical reform: GOP revives ‘scare Grandma’ tactics to kill health bill

Proposed Medicare cuts aren’t as big, or painful, as critics imply.

Edit03grf Scaring seniors about losing their Medicare benefits is deceptive and irresponsible, but it's a political winner. Both parties have played the game shamelessly over the years. This time, it's Republicans who are doing it, and it's as if they're trying to set a new, lower bar for demagoguery. How else to explain why Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a doctor who ought to know better, would warn seniors that the Medicare cuts in the health reform plan being debated in the Senate mean "you're going to die sooner." Or why Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would plead: "Don't cut Grandma's Medicare." The occasion for this and other over-the-top rhetoric was an effort by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to remove the nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts from the Senate measure. McCain argues that the cuts are so big, they'll inevitably and unfairly harm seniors' health care. Tellingly, even the nation's leading advocacy group for the aging, AARP, opposes McCain's amendment, noting that the Senate plan "does not reduce any guaranteed Medicare benefits." It's also interesting to note that McCain and other Republicans haven't always felt so protective of Grandma. McCain suggested even larger Medicare cuts during his presidential campaign last year, and he and some other GOP critics voted for cuts more than twice as big when Congress approved the Balanced Budget Act in 1997 What's different today? Republicans are trying to derail President Obama's health overhaul, and they want to get Democrats on record as voting to cut Medicare. Some key reasons why their arguments are bogus: — The Medicare cuts aren't nearly as big as critics imply. The cuts would take place over 10 years, at a time when Medicare would spend an estimated $7.1 trillion. Add back money for improved benefits, and the net cuts amount to about 5%. There's at least that much fat in the program. — Critics charge that Medicare providers such as hospitals — which would be cut about $140 billion over 10 years — would have to scale back services to seniors. It's odd, then, that the hospitals themselves agreed to accept about $155 billion in cuts. Why? Because health reform would provide so many new patients with insurance — including many that hospitals now treat for free — that hospitals would come out ahead. — Another big cut would come from Medicare Advantage, or so-called private Medicare, which was created to show that businesses could run Medicare plans more efficiently than the government. Few succeeded, so Congress made the program richer. Today, Medicare Advantage is a gold-plated program that requires taxpayers to kick in a 14% subsidy to help it compete with government-run Medicare. Are Medicare Advantage beneficiaries upset that some of their benefits might go away or cost more? Sure. Is that unfair? No. No matter what the Senate does, the aging of the Baby Boom generation will drive up Medicare costs rapidly. The Senate plan would trim the increase from about 6.5% a year to about 5.5% a year, while providing much of the funding necessary to expand medical coverage without crippling the federal budget. What's scary isn't what will happen to seniors and their Medicare benefits. They'll be fine. What's frightening is how many people will continue to suffer with bad insurance or none at all if the scare tactics succeed.

Crocodile Tears for Medicare

For three full days, the Senate debate over health care reform has been loaded with misinformation and scare tactics targeted directly at seniors.  Among the most recent outrageous claims are that seniors will die sooner  if health care reform passes and health care reform will cut Medicare benefits.  Both are simply not true.  Today we joined Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Tom Harkin (IA) at a news conference offering the truth about health care reform and it’s impact on Medicare.  We also announced our support for an amendment introduced by Senator Bennet today, which expressly prohibits any reductions in guaranteed Medicare benefits and makes sure all savings are reinvested back into Medicare.   You can watch Barbara’s full remarks here:    We’ve said it before but clearly it must be said again...and again...and again.

 “Don’t Touch Medicare” may sound like a good slogan but it’s a fatal strategy for the program. 

Here’s why:
  •  Benefits cuts  are not included in health care reform legislation being debated but that’s exactly what beneficiaries will ultimately face if we do nothing.  The status quo isn’t sustainable and failure to pass health care reform is not an option for seniors who rely on Medicare. Without reform, neither seniors nor the government will be able to afford the program and Medicare will be targeted with unprecedented benefit cuts, higher premiums, and growing out-of-pocket costs.  
  • If health care costs continue to grow unchecked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)   predicts, total spending on health care would rise from 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2007 to 49 percent in 2082. Federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid would rise from 4 percent of GDP in 19 percent in 2082.  Benefits cuts are NOT proposed in the House reform legislation; however, without health care reform, it is inevitable that Medicare and Medicaid will face deep cuts and benefit cuts for seniors will be on the table then.  Arbitrarily cutting Medicare without addressing system wide health care reform is not a hypothetical financial exercise.  It would have real impacts on real people, most of whom have nowhere else to go for coverage and limited options for increasing their resources.  
  • The Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which pays for Medicare Part A, is projected to be exhausted by 2017.  Without reform, seniors will bear an increasing burden of higher out-of-pocket costs—costs which already consume about one-quarter of the average senior’s Social Security benefit.  Without reform, that amount will continue to grow far beyond the average beneficiaries ability to keep up. The Part D doughnut hole alone is projected to double with in the next decade.  
Consider this: Health care reform’s most vocal opponents in Congress have also been philosophically opposed to the existence of social safety net programs like Medicare in the first place. Media Matters reports Senators who are leading the current charge to prevent reforms in Medicare have actually supported $1.57 billion in Medicare cuts in the past—and much of those were direct cuts in benefits. Given the current health care crisis in America, health care opponents’    strategy of “Don’t Touch Medicare” will ultimately achieve the same goal proposed by Medicare’s opponents back in the 1990’s to let Medicare “whither on the vine”.

He Was in Favor of Medicare Cuts...Before He Opposed Them

McCain photoThe health care reform debate is underway in the Senate and it’s going to be a long hard slog for those trying to sort fact from fiction, spin from solutions and politics from profits.   Consider exhibit #1.  Senator John McCain’s amendment to send the health care bill back to the Finance committee to remove $491 billion in proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.  But wait...why the outrage over these savings when the Senator proposed much larger cuts in Medicare just a year ago on the presidential campaign trail?  The Wonk Room describes it this way: 
“In October 2008, the McCain campaign announced that the Senator would pay for his health plan “with major reductions to Medicare and Medicaid…in a move that independent analysts estimate could result in cuts of $1.3 trillion over 10 years to the government programs.” Those cuts would have reduced Medicare and Medicaid spending by as much as 20% over 10 years and cut into benefits. In 1997, McCain (along with many Democrats) voted for a series of Medicare cuts as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. That act decreased Medicare spending by 12.7% over 10 years and instituted the kind of payment updates that the Senate bill is now recommending. In 1995, moreover, Republicans sought to cut 14% from projected Medicare spending over seven years and force millions of elderly recipients into managed health care programs or HMOs. As Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich admitted, “We don’t want to get rid of it in round one because we don’t think it’s politically smart,” he said. “But we believe that it’s going to wither on the vine because we think [seniors] are going to leave it voluntarily.”
One key difference between what many consider “bad cuts” (now) and “good cuts” (then) is that current proposals would trim the billions in wasteful subsidies now going to private insurers in Medicare Advantage.  It’s no coincidence that those who created these subsidies for the insurance industry in the first place (subsidies which steal years off the trust fund and add $36 to the premiums of every Medicare beneficiary) are now the most vocal “supporters” of Medicare—read private insurers in Medicare. We’ve sent a letter to the Senate  reminding Senators that the National Committee and it's members and supporters continue to oppose benefit cuts in Medicare and since that is not what is proposed they should reject Senator McCain’s amendment. 
“The National Committee opposes any cuts to Medicare benefits.  Protecting the Medicare program, along with Social Security, have been our key mission since our founding 25 years ago and remain our top priority today.  In fact, these programs are critical lifelines to today’s retirees, and we believe they will be even more important to future generations.  But we also know that the cost of paying for seniors' health care keeps rising, even with Medicare paying a large portion of the bill.  That is why we at the National Committee support savings in the Medicare program that will help lower costs.  Wringing out fraud, waste and inefficiency in Medicare is critical for both the federal government and for every Medicare beneficiary.    America's seniors have a major stake in the health care reform debate as the skyrocketing costs of health care are especially challenging for those on fixed incomes.  Not a single penny of the savings in the Senate bill will come out of the pockets of beneficiaries in the traditional Medicare program.  The Medicare savings included in H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will positively impact millions of Medicare beneficiaries by slowing the rate of increase in out-of-pocket costs and improving benefits; and it will extend the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by five years.  To us, this is a win-win for seniors and the Medicare program.”

Enjoy This New Health Care Reform Ad...We Did!

Age Discrimination and Health Care Reform

Stethescope-moneyXSmallGuest Contributors: Carroll Estes, Ph.D., Peter Arno, PH.D. and Deborah Viola, Ph.D. The health care reform bills now before Congress contain an unpleasant surprise for older Americans: Age-based increases in health insurance premiums for those under 65. This is nothing more than a giveaway to the private insurance industry.  At first blush, it might appear that this is justified assuming that as we age, we cost the health care system more. In fact, age is far from an entirely reliable predictor of health care costs, accounting for less than 20% of the variation in costs across age groups. A healthy 55-year-old may well consume fewer health care dollars than a 35-year-old who is obese or has diabetes.  Both the House and Senate bills include provisions to eliminate pre-existing condition clauses, which clearly serve the public interest. Permitting premiums to rise with age contradicts the intent, if not the letter, of that regulation as aging can reasonably be considered an immutable, pre-existing condition.  Moreover, the new regulation disproportionately affects Americans between 55 and 64, who already shoulder a financial burden for health care that is higher than any other age group, regardless of insurance status.  The current House bill would allow someone 55 or older to pay premiums that are twice as high as a young enrollee (a 2:1 age rating). The Senate agreed to a 3:1 age rating, which would allow premiums to be three times higher for older people. In a recent briefing, Karen Ignagni, head of the American Health Insurance Plans that represents private health insurers, called for a 5:1 age rating.  Here's a question for policymakers and the public to consider: Will the proposed age-rating of premiums, coupled with the absence of a robust, affordable public option, push more older Americans into the pool of people unable to afford health coverage? This is not just a numbers game. There is both a human and financial toll to be paid. A recent Harvard study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that American adults under 65 who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage. Ailing and uninsured people in their 50s and 60s will likely add to the strain on Medicare's budget as they seek care for neglected health problems as soon as they become eligible for this entitlement.  Americans need to seriously consider the implications of stealth budgetary techniques, such as discriminatory, age-related premiums. The private insurance industry stands to make big profits from the millions of new customers it will pick up through health care reform. Adding to its bounty by putting the squeeze on the finances of older Americans is not only unjust, it is poor economic policy.  Carroll Estes, Ph.D., Chair of the Board of Directors, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Professor and Founding Director Institute for Health & Aging University of California, San Francisco Peter Arno, PH.D., Professor & Director, Doctoral Program, Department of Health Policy and Management School of Health Sciences and Practice New York Medical College Valhalla, NY  Deborah Viola, Ph.D., Associate Professor,Department of Health Policy & Management New York Medical College School of Health Sciences & Practice Valhalla, New York



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