Your Health ;
; Many older Americans fear reform would hurt Medicare.
; But experts say it would strengthen the program.
; How would benefits be affected?
Medicare Medicare Safeguarding
Older Americans are speaking out in polls and public forums across the country—voicing their angry suspicions that health care reforms would cut Medicare benefits or increase their costs to help pay for covering the uninsured.
While this summer’s spate of anti-reform propaganda—with
predictions of “death panels,” care denied to those who are “too
old” and even the “elimination” of Medicare—has consistently
been exposed as false, it inevitably feeds those fears.
Experts who have studied the proposals now being debated
generally say the changes actually aim to strengthen Medicare
and improve beneficiaries’ care and access to physicians.
system only adds to uncertainties.
Details of some proposals—especial-
ly financing measures—are bafflingly
technical. When supporters of re-
form, and even President Obama, use
phrases like “bending the cost curve”
to explain how potential savings from
Medicare can help fund reform with-
out cutting benefits, millions of eyes
glaze over. But opposition sound-
bites about “rationing” and “pulling
the plug on Granny” resonate because
they’re frighteningly simple.
The proposals even add new bene-
fits; for example, making preventive
measures, such as mammograms
and colonoscopies, free to benefi-
ciaries and substantially improving
prescription drug coverage. Still,
the fears remain.
“Medicare beneficiaries are the
most satisfied of any Americans with
their health coverage, so it’s natural
for them to worry about any changes
that might alter it, especially when
they’re being lied to in a deliberate
attempt to make them feel anxious,”
says Jonathan Oberlander, a professor
of social medicine and health policy
at the University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, and a historian of Medi-
“In those days,” Oberlander
says, “insurance companies
wouldn’t insure seniors be-
cause they were considered
bad risks, so millions had no
health coverage and often
faced financial ruin if they
became very sick.” In other
words, the same predica-
ment as millions of people
under 65 face now.
Today, older Americans on
The complexity of reforming the
What happens to Medicare without
Often missing from the public con-
versation is what happens to Medi-
care if nothing is done. If Medicare’s
expenditures exceed its income—
which for the hospital side of the
program is projected to happen as
early as 2017—the only way it could
then get out of the hole would be to