Much of the current talk about the problems of Medicare misses the point. The proposals could end up "fixing" a successful program out of existence.
Before supporting any fix, remember:
- Medicare assures the elderly and people with disabilities that neither they nor their families will have to bear the full burden of their health care costs.
- Seniors and people with disabilities appreciate Medicare and the uniform benefits it provides to everyone, regardless of income or where they live.
- Medicare became necessary in the first place because health insurance companies were not meeting the needs of the elderly; that's why it was enacted by Congress in 1965.
- Today, over forty years later, private insurance companies still aren't interested in serving the elderly and disabled. HMOs have pulled out of markets, increased premiums, and cut benefits – despite evidence that they are paid more than enough.
Any efforts to reform Medicare should
- Preserve a guaranteed set of benefits for all beneficiaries and include prescription drugs and long-term care services.
- Provide plain and simple information about what Medicare covers, how to get necessary services, and what to do when individuals don't get the Medicare coverage or services they need.
- Recognize the limits of private health insurance and managed care: they come and go depending on their economic interests. They are currently reducing access to services to Medicare beneficiaries, often leaving whole communities without a managed care option.
We must strive to make Medicare work for all by building on its established track-record of providing guaranteed benefits. Policy makers should make choices that keep Medicare a strong program with uniform benefits available to all beneficiaries.