MEDICARE REFORM: More Offer Advice Before Commission
Leading health policy experts yesterday advised the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare on ways to cut Medicare costs and maintain the program's survival for Baby Boomers who will soon be eligible for the federally subsidized health insurance. Experts contend that "last year's Balanced Budget Act will stave off tough choices for only a short time" (Norton, CongressDaily/A.M., 4/22).
The AP/Los Angeles Times reports that Gail Wilensky, a former Medicare administrator, told the commission Tuesday, "You ought to worry about what the government is willing to pay per person." Wilensky "is part of a separate, privately financed study group on Medicare organized by the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance," which has "recommended an experiment to show whether Medicare could operate more like companies that give their workers a choice of health plans." The NASI plan suggests that the government "ask private health plans to make their best offer, then Medicare would pay part of the price -- up to the limit public coffers could afford. The rest would be charged to senior citizens as a premium." Wilensky said the results of this measure "would be a choice among plans of varying kinds and out-of-pocket costs." She said "if people want to do a more expensive type of plan, then they pay more" (Love, 4/22).
CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Richard Foster, the Health Care Financing Administration's chief actuary, "warned that a significant deficit will remain and even grow as a large segment of the population ages." He said that "policy makers will need to consider benefit reductions of 18% or tax hikes of 22%, or some combination of those two options to keep the program in the black." Foster said, "This issue is pretty well known. Some of us have been talking about it for years. But the reality of the Baby Boomers is now only 12 years away."
CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) said "the health care system also will be strained by veterans and Medicaid benefits," and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) "raised concerns about the option of converting to a program of defined contributions" (4/22).
An editorial in today's Orlando Sentinel reacts to Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan's suggestion Monday that Medicare should be modeled around private-sector approaches. The editorial states, "Mr. Greenspan's comments this week should provoke at least two responses from the Medicare commission: Consider alternatives that would make Medicare more efficient. Some commission members questioned the idea of using as a model the private sector -- which admittedly has some problems with managed care. That, however, might be worthwhile for evaluation purposes." And secondly, "Hold off on any large-scale changes in Medicare for the immediate future. That would allow the commission to do its job. Medicare is too costly and too big as it is. The program can't afford to take even modestly risky steps, no matter how well-intended they may appear to be" (4/22).