Monday, May 2, 2011

Proposed Rip in the Safety Net

A plan to change Medicare was recently proposed that would fundamentally change how future recipients may receive these federal health benefits.

As far back as 1945, Harry S. Truman outlined what he hoped would be a “comprehensive prepaid medical insurance plan for all people”. However, as time passed, the scope of this plan began to narrow. When it was learned through a national survey that only 56% of Americans 65 years of age and older had health insurance, the Social Security Act, signed 20 years later by Lyndon B. Johnson, established Medicaid, which was meant to fulfill the health care needs of low income Americans, and Medicare which became the primary channel for senior citizens and some individuals with disabilities to obtain broad health care coverage.

Medicare has been the favored “health care safety net” for most seniors since its inception 46 years ago, and thoughts of effectively changing that health care program has many seniors, and future seniors, very concerned. Under a proposed plan that is currently under consideration in Congress, those who are 55 or older would remain in the current Medicare system, those under 55 would receive subsidies that would steadily lose value over time. The ‘under-55’s’ would become part of a new Medicare program that has fixed ‘spending caps’. Any health care expenses beyond those spending caps would become the responsibility of the consumer either through the purchase of supplemental health care plans or paid for out of pocket. The revised plan suggests that starting in 2012 the Medicare program would be reworked into a system that would provide future seniors with "vouchers," direct payments to subsidize private health insurance plans rather than the current Medicare-direct payment for seniors’ medical bills. There has also been great concern over whether insurers would readily accept the majority of seniors.

The intended changes to Medicare have caused confusion and anger, primarily because many Americans worry that they may not be able to obtain future medical care for their needs. The way to fix American healthcare is not to take it away from people. Restricting access to healthcare while reducing services for the poor and the elderly are not justifiable even if they balance the Federal budget, (which they won’t.) We have to decide what kind of America we want to retain and refuse to put the health and well-being of millions of Americans at risk by the wholesale cutting of essential social programs. America’s fiscal health cannot be achieved by eroding health care.

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