Healthcare providers need to hold President Clinton and Congress' feet to the fire as the battle over raising the Medicare eligibility age heats up during the upcoming budget negotiations.
Unfortunately, there's concern that the Senate's politically gutsy move to include limited means testing and raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 is just a bargaining chip in the budget battle. Only strong support from the president will guarantee these measures are included in the final bill.
As providers painfully realize, restricted payments to hospitals and physicians will finance much of the $115 billion in savings needed to keep the Medicare program afloat until 2008. The political winds suggest that won't change.
But entitlements can't live on lower reimbursements alone. At some point, beneficiaries will have to sacrifice. That time has come, and the Senate's plan is a good place to start.
Raising the eligibility age to 67 would happen gradually over the next 30 years. Requiring wealthier seniors to pay higher premiums for physician and outpatient care also makes sense for a program that is ready to collapse. Under the Senate's plan, only 1.6 million of the 38 million Medicare beneficiaries would pay more. Their added outlays would provide Medicare $4 billion over five years, chump change for a program that spends well over $200 billion a year and is expected to exceed $500 billion a year by 2010.
When Medicare was passed in 1965, the average life expectancy was 70 years. Today's seniors live, on average, about seven years longer. The age spiral is expected to continue as health-conscious baby boomers approach their golden years. It's time for a major Medicare tune-up.
The powerful senior lobby will actively fight the changes. The politicians will need all the support they can muster to withstand the senior backlash. Let them know they are doing the right thing.