Cut Medicare? Cut Medicaid? Why?

kbmgmedicareterms.jpgIn the 1980s, I worked for a health economist named Carl Schramm. His mantra was that the real problem was health care costs, not the cost of insurance. This message landed him a great job with the health insurance industry and he played it forward while leading its lobbying group in the prelude to the Clinton’s health reform efforts.

While I get that health insurers would rather blame providers (hospitals and doctors at that time more than pharmaceutical companies) rather than shoulder the blame for ever-increasing costs, policymakers might want to think about what Schramm was trying to get across nearly 25 years ago.

Here’s my favorite example. In 2006, a Republican-led effort added a prescription drug benefit to  Medicare. The law specifically states that Medicare could not negotiate prices (it was reasoned the market will do that and how is that working exactly?).

Before tearing up the social contract with older Americans and throwing in the towel, let’s empower Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate health care costs across the board. Giving them more control over costs might, just might save these crucial programs for future generations.

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Cutting Social Security Will Hurt Low Income Elders

The poll results announced yesterday by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare should make members of Congress and others who want to make drastic changes to Social Security think twice.

Proposals to significantly cut benefits or raise the retirement age would hurt older adults with limited income and resources disproportionately. The poll clearly shows that the American people oppose those types of changes.

With the 75th anniversary of Social Security just around the corner, it’s time to strengthen Social Security and not make the most vulnerable in our society suffer.

The poll “U.S. Attitudes Toward Social Security” is now available on the National Committee Foundation’s website.

Senior Centers and Boomers

Are senior centers doing enough to reel in baby boomers? A burning question for those who direct or lead them, what to offer to attract the largest generation in our history is a constant source of debate and discussion. Here is a public service announcement I edited as part of a student project this spring; it will be aired on a local cable public access channel. I’d be interested in thoughts from other boomers on the message. And, I’d like to hear from senior center leaders who might want to try developing a similar PSA for use in their own backyard.

What Few Seniors Know about Health Reform

I hope that older Americans and their advocates understand the good that will come from passage of health reform. Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole will help millions of older Americans who struggle to pay for prescription drugs. The Elder Justice Act, which is embedded in the law, will help seniors who are victims of this silent and horrible crisis. Let’s get behind the name calling, the lies and the scare tactics and praise this historic achievement on behalf of the American people, not just the nation’s seniors.

It is truly amazing how well the Republican message machine has worked to discredit health reform. They have even scared most people over 65 into thinking that this effort will mean the death of Medicare.

In musing about this whole thing, I put my memory cap on. When I first came to Washington, I worked for the Blues and then for the health insurance industry. What I learned was that the only reason the for-profit insurance industry got into health insurance in the first place was to sell life insurance. At board and committee meetings, I listened to CEOs and others brag about how they were blowing the Blues out of the water and their group life insurance sales went through the roof as they encroached on what was a non-profit niche.

Honestly, the time for universal coverage being a simple proposition has long past. When Blue Cross and Blue Shield was still only non-profit organizations in every state and covered most working Americans was the time to have taken this action. Now it seems like a hopeless mess which will only enrich private insurers who must make a profit from health care; they consider it a commodity like any other. Not a right.

The private insurers are entrenched. Almost monthly, I have to use my waning knowledge of contracts (I used to write plain language health insurance booklets) to appeal a denied claim from my wife’s for-profit insurer. Most of the time, I win out, but not without a lot of back and forth and making veiled threats. This is no way to run a system.  I’m afraid that health reform will not do anything to stop these expensive, frustrating and often frightening tactics.

I digress. A bright spot in the health reform bill under consideration by the Senate is that the Elder Justice Act is in their bill. The House has deferred including it since the Dems see no political benefit in its inclusion at this point. In fact, it was sponsored by a Republican who will likely vote against the whole bill anyway. Amazing how it all works.

The Act will do much to prevent elder abuse, protect seniors, educate law enforcement and financial institutions, and prosecute sometimes horrendous crimes. So, there is something in health reform for seniors. And, from what I can tell, health reform will not dismember Medicare; in fact it may boot out some of the for-profits who have scammed seniors and the government itself for years under the rubric: Medicare Advantage Plans.

I think the fact that the Elder Justice Act has some life to it in health reform is due in no small part to the Elder Justice Now campaign. I am proud to have been a part of it. Please visit www.elderjusticenow.org, view a few videos and take action on behalf of older Americans.