On Medicare’s 50th birthday, some politicians want to kill it

Medicare turns 50 today, riding high in the polls but under attack from presidential candidates proposing benefit cuts or even phasing out the U.S. healthcare program for older people.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the law, half of Americans age 65 or older had no health insurance. Today, just 2 percent go uncovered.

And the public really, really likes Medicare, which last year covered 54 million Americans. A poll released earlier this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found strong support across political party lines for Medicare and Medicaid, which insures low-income Americans and became law alongside Medicare.

But Medicare still sticks in the craw of conservatives.

“We need to figure out a way to phase out this program for (people who are not already receiving benefits) and move to a new system that allows them to have something, because they’re not going to have anything,” Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush told an audience of conservatives in New Hampshire last week.

Bush later tried to walk back his comment, but he is not alone in his desire to euthanize Medicare just as it hits midlife. Fellow Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 69. Marco Rubio has said that the two programs “actually weakened us as a people.” And so on.

Beyond all the noise lies an important question: how to best pay for health care for our aging population.

From where I’m sitting – Medicare is the answer, not the problem. The program actually does a better job of restraining spending growth than private health insurance because its massive size gives it the power to set prices that providers will accept. And the Affordable Care Act mandated constraints in provider payments that have been paying off.

Medicare spending has been slowing in recent years. Reflecting that, the annual Part B (outpatient services) premium has been flat at $104.90 for the past three years.

Medicare’s trustees projected last week that the program’s total spending as a percent of the gross domestic product would rise from 3.5 percent to 5.4 percent in 2035. That is “not nothing, but neither is it insurmountable,” says Jared Bernstein, an economist and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Learn more at Reuters Money.

 

Comments

  1. You make some rational but obvious statements here but I don’t see any recommended solutions. I am lucky to have been very healthy for almost 60 years, paying my own way with insurance. What happens when I actually need the coverage and the proper care? Talk about inefficiencies. I went to a local urgent care and I was the only patient in the facility. I still had wait over 45 minutes with at least 4 staff members mulling about. I had to threaten to go to the ER which was nearby before I was seen. After all that, I guessed what my diagnosis was but they got it wrong. Keep telling me how we have the best health care system in the world.

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