Lawmakers Anticipate Medicare Changes To Strengthen Finances
Because President Bush "seems to have given up" on Social Security reform this year, Medicare is the "more likely playing field" to address long-term budgetary shortfalls in federal entitlement programs, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Lipman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1).
A report released last week by the board of trustees for Medicare and Social Security found that the Medicare hospital trust fund will become insolvent by 2019, one year later than estimated last year (California Healthline, 4/24). After 2019, the program would have enough funds to operate at 75% of current capacity.
Medicare could be made financially solvent through a 3.55 percentage point increase in payroll taxes, but that "solution is considered politically impossible in the current atmosphere," and "so is cutting benefits," according to the Journal-Constitution.
House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said that while Congress probably will not pass any drastic reform measures to provide long-term relief, lawmakers are likely to pass incremental measures to increase the solvency of the program by a few years.
"One person's reform is another person's income cut, or another's benefit cut," Stark said, adding that Congress must consider "a lot of competing interests from beneficiaries, (health care) providers and taxpayers."
Bush has called for a nearly $40 billion reduction in reimbursements to health care providers and supports the enactment of a scheduled 10% cut in payments to physicians, but Democrats are focusing on equalizing payments for Medicare Advantage plans. Several federal agencies report that MA plans are reimbursed on average at a 12% higher rate than traditional fee-for-service plans.
Equalizing the reimbursement rate would increase the solvency of Medicare by two years, according to Richard Foster, Medicare's chief actuary (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1).
The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday examined how after "tangling with prescription drug plans, older adults are running into problems with" MA plans.
The number of seniors in private plans has grown by 60% since 2003, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
With the "surge in new members have come concerns that older adults don't know what they're buying and sometimes fall victim to questionable sales tactics," according to the Morning News.
Some beneficiaries do not realize that they will not be able to see the same doctor they saw under Medicare, according to Lue Taff, a manager of the elder support program at the Senior Source. Taff added that some sales agents emphasize the plan's added benefits, such as vision and dental care, while not fully explaining the plan's drawbacks (Moos, Dallas Morning News, 5/1).