Seniors in Northern Virginia and around the country have expressed concerns that under the health care reform being considered by Congress, they will see a reduction, even the elimination of their Medicare benefits.
This is simply not the case. Medicare – which has provided health care for Americans age 65 and older for the last 44 years – has been a major success and will be protected. Rather than hurt Medicare, the current reform bill under consideration would build on Medicare’s successes, delivering improved benefits such as lower prescription costs and promoting a higher standard of care.
Today, many of America’s 38 million seniors are forced to cherry pick their medications based on what they can and cannot afford, not what their doctor prescribes. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, reform legislation will significantly reduce the number of people forced to go without necessary medications by lowering the cost of prescription drugs for seniors. The legislation does this by halfway closing the so-called prescription drug “doughnut hole,” covering 50 percent of what seniors’ spend on prescription costs between $2700 (roughly $896 maximum out-of-pocket) and $6154 per year. This proposal would save up to $1,700 a year for seniors whose annual prescription expenditure falls within this doughnut hole.
Hospital readmission rates are another cost driver currently hurting Medicare. Today, 20 percent of Medicare patients discharged from the hospital are readmitted within 30 days. Often these readmissions are due to hospital acquired infections. We can do better. The current reform bill places a premium on quality and preventive care for our seniors. Hospitals that lower their re-admissions for preventable infections would receive financial incentives, a major incentive to aggressively cut down on these deadly infections.
Health reform would also eliminate much of the waste and abuse that currently plagues Medicare, specifically from the Medicare Advantage program – a supplemental, elective program for seniors. Medicare Advantage was created in the 1980’s as a public/private partnership. Over the years, the project has netted private insurers windfall profits and has not been a good use of taxpayers’ money. By placing a cap on the profit private insurers can make via participation in this supplemental program (up to five percent), we can keep the Medicare trust fund solvent longer, providing better care for everyone in the system.
Contrary to some claims, seniors have nothing to fear from the current proposals to reform health care. In the absence of reform, however, rising costs and the burdens of our current broken system will continue to affect young and old alike, jeopardizing the future of Medicare for both the current and future generations.