The National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare epitomized Washington, complete with horse-trading for votes, media sound bites, political grandstanding and blown deadlines.
But in the end, frustrating logjams proved how difficult it is to reach consensus on the best strategy for saving Medicare. The panel failed to muster the 11 votes needed to endorse an overhaul plan for the financially struggling program. The reform debate now shifts to Capitol Hill, where lawmakers must try to find a blueprint acceptable to Congress and the White House.
From an economic standpoint, the nation clearly must set limits and guidelines to corral the growing demand for healthcare among the burgeoning elderly population. From a political standpoint, however, reform obstacles are overwhelming.
The commission took on a formidable task: deciding the merits of a premium-support system, means-testing and an increase in the eligibility age. Yet that task is dwarfed by the prospect of adding prescription drug benefits to Medicare.
But before the entitlement tent gets widened, Congress should approve a prescription benefit limited to the poorest and neediest of the Medicare population.