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Op-ed: Keep America's Medicare promise

The promise — and hope — of Medicare has always been that older Americans and the disabled would have high-quality, affordable health-care coverage. But, that promise is quickly eroding for Medicare patients.

Over the next two years, the government will slash Medicare physician payments 15 percent, and fully 60 percent of physicians say they will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat if the first Medicare cut occurs next year. In addition, Medicare premiums continue to skyrocket, having doubled since 2000. This is disturbing news for patients who rely on Medicare.

Older Americans are already beginning to feel the impact of Medicare's current physician-payment rates, which are now at 2001 levels. About 25 percent of Medicare patients seeking a new primary-care physician already have problems finding one, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress on Medicare.

Couple that fact with a government-predicted shortage of 85,000 physicians by 2020 — and the first wave of baby boomers turning 65 in three short years — and the future for Medicare patients' access to care is bleak, unless we take concrete steps to turn the tide.

Congress can take action to stop the next two years of Medicare cuts to doctors and update payments to help cover increasing practice costs, limit premium increases for seniors, and help low-income seniors with their out-of-pocket health-care costs. To help low-income seniors with their health-care and prescription-drug costs, Congress should also raise asset test limits to stop penalizing low-income savers.

The House has already acted, and now the Senate must, too.

In order to take these important and necessary actions without putting the burden on the backs of Medicare patients, the House voted to level the playing field between payments to private health plans, under Medicare Advantage, and traditional Medicare.

With Medicare Advantage plans being paid more than traditional Medicare — and covering only one in five Medicare patients — the private insurance industry is reaping a $54 billion subsidy. That money comes from the pockets of taxpayers and adds to already high Medicare premium increases.

Restoring the balance will make it possible for Congress to stop cuts to doctors who care for Medicare patients and to add important new benefits without raising Medicare premiums even higher. Yet, to date, some senators have resisted eliminating the excess payments to the insurance industry.

The Senate has a choice: Uphold its long-term commitment to keep Medicare strong for Americans — or keep oversubsidizing big insurance. Seems to us like an easy choice.


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