Sorting through recent Medicare buzz

Aug 15, 2012

There’s a lot of buzz about Medicare, the nation’s health insurance program for seniors and the disabled, right now. I wonder how Rhode Island’s Medicare recipients are reading all of this. Confusion? Concern? Here are some of the stories I’ve been following and my best effort at sorting fact from fiction:

  • If Paul Ryan becomes our next Vice President, what happens to Medicare (and Medicaid, the safety net program for the nation’s poor, for that matter)? Democrats are saying Ryan wants to “eviscerate” Medicare. But that’s not exactly true, according to Politifact. They found that, while Republicans want to alter Medicare fundamentally, possibly giving future program participants vouchers to buy private insurance instead of the government-funded coverage they now get, they aren’t proposing to eliminate it.
  • Most hospitals in Rhode Island will soon be penalized by the federal government for readmitting Medicare recipients too often and too soon after being discharged. The idea is that more readmissions could be prevented by things like following up with patients a week or so after their discharge from the hospital, catching problems earlier, and thereby staving off another costly hospital stay. It’s another feature of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s sweeping health reform law, coming into play (this part takes effect October 1st). See this Kaiser Health News story about the penalties. Some worry that safety net hospitals that treat a greater share of Medicare recipients won’t have the resources to reduce readmissions and will therefore be penalized unfairly. And many hospitals say they’re trying hard to keep from readmitting patients who shouldn’t need to come back but just can’t seem to gain any traction on the problem. No one is saying, however, that anyone should be worried about being denied medical care they need. (And don’t forget this recent news: several Rhode Island hospitals are getting a bump in Medicare payments from the government.)
  • There seems to be lots of voter concern about Medicare right now. Check out data from a recent AARP poll showing that a majority of pre-retirement boomers think politicians aren’t doing enough to protect Medicare. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, I can tell you this much: it’s pretty much undeniable (links to recent testimony from the director of the Congressional Budget Office that lays this out really clearly) that the cost of Medicare to the federal government relative to our GDP, combined with growing health care costs and a steadily aging population, is not sustainable. By the early 2020s, Medicare spending is projected to hit one trillion dollars (said with evil snicker and pinky to corner of mouth). And Democrats and Republicans have pretty different ideas about how to handle this. Lots at stake in this election when it comes to health care!

What’s on your mind when it comes to Medicare and other health care topics on the table for this election? Anything you’d like me to ground truth?