MEDICARE REFORM: New Benefits Suggested
The National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare heard testimony yesterday from several groups representing public health interests, the elderly and the insurance industry. The AP/Dallas Morning News reports that "[p]rescription drugs, long-term nursing home care and more mental health services were among the new benefits proposed." Some groups testifying before the panel argued that by increasing preventive benefits, the system may "actually come out ahead" by lowering long-term costs. Judith Riggs of the Alzheimer's Association said, "This is an investment that will result in better health outcomes for beneficiaries and save money over the long run." Commission chair Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) said, "We all have a legitimate concern in figuring out how we can increase the package and still be able to afford it." But some commission members, such as Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), disagreed that such an option would ever be possible. "I think to be talking about adding benefits to the basic Medicare program is to be out of touch," Gramm said.
Everyone's Two Cents
Some speakers suggested that new taxes on cigarettes and/or alcohol could be used to finance prescription drug coverage, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said the use of government surpluses would be a viable possibility. The American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, suggested "charging affluent retirees more for Medicare in order to finance new long-term care benefits" (9/9). The National Coalition on Health Care argued for replacing the current Medicare system with a program that gives seniors a yearly sum of money (or voucher) to buy health insurance from competing health plans (release, 9/8). American Association of Health Plans President Karen Ignagni said that "unanticipated events will prevent the successful implementation of virtually every solution that the Commission might examine." She outlined three core principles that must be at the center of any Medicare reform effort: first, more choice; second, predictability and consistency for beneficiaries and plans; and third, parity of payment and regulation across the entire program (AAHP release, 9/8). Heath Insurance Association of America COO Chip Kahn said seniors must be expected to pay more for their coverage, adding that access to supplemental coverage such as Medigap is the key to solving the Medicare puzzle (HIAA release, 9/8). The AP/Dallas Morning News notes that "[c]onspicuously missing" from the discussions was the American Association of Retired Persons. Commission co-chair Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) "chided AARP, saying 'it requires courage to take part in the offering of solutions'" (9/9). Don't forget to check out the bipartisan Medicare commission's website at http://thomas.loc.gov/medicare/