Legislative Update: June 2012

Legislative Update: June 2012

Radical Medicare Overhaul Proposal In Senate

By Legislative Analyst, Jessie Gibbons

Proposals to reform Medicare have been floating around the halls of Congress since 2010, but none have been as radical or risky as one recently released by four prominent Senators. In an attempt to curb Medicare spending, the group came up with a plan that would phase out Medicare completely, and it would do so at the expense of current enrollees, beginning as early as 2014. The proposal, introduced by Senators Rand Paul (KY), Mike Lee (UT), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Jim DeMint (SC), would transition beneficiaries into the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program – the same health program available to Members of Congress.

The four stated that their proposal – The Congressional Health Care for Seniors Act – would “provide Medicare patients with the best healthcare in America,” and that it would “forever protect seniors’ interests by aligning them with self-interested politicians.” But the plan is risky for two key reasons. First, it would eliminate Medicare completely, and second, it would do so beginning in 2014, affecting even current beneficiaries. Other proposals, including the plan released by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (WI-1) in his fiscal 2013 budget, would offer traditional fee-for-service Medicare as an option to seniors, and would delay implementation to protect current enrollees from any drastic or sudden changes. In addition to phasing out traditional Medicare, The Congressional Health Care for Seniors Act would gradually increase the eligibility age to seventy, and it would increase means-testing measures so that wealthier seniors would pay a greater percentage of their healthcare costs.

Low-income seniors would receive assistance from Medicaid, and those with the greatest health expenses would receive additional help from the government. According to the plan’s sponsors, The Congressional Health Care for Seniors Act would reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over ten years, and it would save the average enrollee $1,500 in out-of-pocket expenses each year. However, a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a majority of Americans – seventy percent – would prefer to keep Medicare as is, “with the government guaranteeing seniors health insurance and making sure that everyone gets the same defined set of benefits.”

At The Senior Citizens League, we understand the scope of the nation’s deficit and we know that some small changes to Medicare may be necessary. However, we firmly believe that any adjustments should be phased in gradually, and that current enrollees and those nearing retirement should be protected from sudden changes. Congress is not likely to vote on any Medicare reform plans before the November election, but TSCL will continue to monitor the evolving negotiations. To learn more, visit our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org.

Source: “Senators Introduced Medicare Reform Plan: The Congressional Health Care for Seniors Act,” Paul.Senate.Gov, March 15, 2012.