Medicare is fast approaching its 50th anniversary: It was signed into law July 30, 1965. But don't expect a celebratory mood when Medicare experts and advocates gather in Washington for the March 20 event, “Honoring 50 Years of Medicare.”
“I am feeling concerned for the future,” said Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, the event's sponsor.
Among those scheduled to speak: Georgetown University Professor of Public Policy Judith Feder, CMS Deputy Administrator Sean Cavanaugh and Patricia Neuman, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation's Program on Medicare Policy.
Stein cited the “increasingly fragmented and privatized” Medicare marketplace as a reason for concern. The prevalence of Medicare Advantage plans, which have enrolled roughly 30% of beneficiaries, along with private Part D prescription-drug and Medigap plans, make it difficult for Americans to understand and value the public nature of the program. That could put Medicare at political risk, especially as the next presidential cycle heats up, and Republicans propose major Medicare restructuring to push further privatization.
More immediately, the debate over repealing Medicare's sustainable growth-rate formula for paying doctors could have serious cost ramifications for seniors, most of whom live on very modest incomes. Congress has a March 31 deadline to take action or doctors will face 21.2% pay cuts. Any deal is likely to include changes to benefits, such as increased cost-sharing for wealthier Medicare enrollees.
“Whether there's a patch or a permanent fix, something will be wanted from beneficiaries,” Stein warned.