Drop this hot potato
Once again, Medicare has been thrown into the crossfire of the health-care reform debate. Here are the issues:
• Without major changes, Medicare will be bankrupt within 20 years
• Senior citizens are very satisfied with Medicare benefits and worry about any changes that would reduce their coverage. This summer, every politician quickly retreated when senior citizens rallied against changes in Medicare.
• Most physicians are wary of Medicare. The complex regulations are difficult and the current fees are hardly generous. Congress has yet to reverse proposed deep cuts to Medicare physician fees.
Now, we come to the current deliberations in Congress. Because of objections to the public option, Congress engineered a hasty compromise that extends Medicare to those 55 years of age or older. What's wrong with this picture?
It depends on your perspective. For administrators, this step is easy--Medicare is already up and running. For economists, extending Medicare may hasten its insolvency. For physicians, more patients will be covered by a program that perpetuates an antiquated reimbursement system
Cost issues and physician objections will likely torpedo this proposal. Medicare needs a major overhaul and everyone knows it. Many critics, including the Congressional Budget Office, doubt that Medicare can deliver savings to fund coverage for the uninsured. Expanding the program only raises more concerns.
Physicians have an even bigger axe to grind. They are upset that Congress has not fulfilled its promise to modernize Medicare fees. Until that happens, any "Medicare-like" proposal will meet stiff physician opposition.
With both economists and physicians voicing such criticism, the Medicare proposal has little chance of success. Congress should drop this political hot potato.
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