Medicare Reform – A Work in Progress

Whether you’re a newcomer to Medicare or a veteran of  the program, observers alike seem to suggest you’re in a better position than ever before to reap plenty of benefits from Medicare.

Although not everybody shares this view, many attribute improvement in Medicare service to seniors to the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, widely known as Obamacare. The Act provides for a significant increase in Medicare-covered preventive health services for seniors, and millions of Medicare recipients have already taken advantage of these services. The Act is also projected to bring a major reduction in prescription drug costs to people on Medicare, particularly during the notorious donut hole phase—and all reports indicate that the new law is already saving Medicare consumers billions of dollars in prescription drug costs.

But even though many observers seem to think Medicare is at least partly on the right track, it’s widely believed that recent and current reforms don’t go far enough.

Although  CNN contributor Ai-jen Poo agrees that the Affordable Care Act has strengthened the Medicare system, Poo goes on to suggest that the reforms in place don’t address the needs of a Medicare system that’s all but bursting at the seams. Poo points out that with millions of new seniors being added to Medicare rolls yearly, reforms need to go much further. While suggesting doctors are compensated fairly under the Act, Poo is quick to point out that home care workers—vital to the quality of life of many Medicare recipients—are grossly underpaid. According to Poo, “One out of two direct care workers supplements his or her income with food stamps, Medicaid or public benefits, compounding our overall challenge.”

The Brookings Institute, on the other hand, thinks the key challenge in Medicare reform isn’t to provide an increase in funding, but to bring costs to manageable levels.

The United States is traveling a dangerous course, according to the Brookings Chairman, by increasing healthcare spending while the federal debt continues to rise. Chairman Herger argues that “Medicare reform presents the opportunity to turn this large publicly-funded program into the leader in increasing the efficiency of health care delivery for all Americans – whether receiving care through public or private plans – improving the quality of health care services, slowing the growth of total health care spending at the national level, and (by slowing the projected growth of Medicare spending) reducing the growth of future debt.”

US News columnist Rick Newman stakes out some middle ground on the issue of continued Medicare reform. While recognizing that “the principal problem is cost” and the Affordable Health Care Act “does not directly take on the healthcare inflation that threatens to bankrupt the country,” Newman suggests it’s important to look beyond the immediate bottom line and to the future. “If fewer people are getting care they need—especially preventive care—that could cause a spike in costs in the future,” he writes.

Although Medicare is looking pretty good as far as the near future is concerned, nearly everyone agrees a long-term fix is in order. The only question is what form it will take.

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What Medicare reforms do you suggest? Leave a comment letting us know where you stand!

Medicare Reform – A Work in Progress © 2012


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