Archived Story

Jack Strayer: A frank discussion about the future of Medicare

Published 9:15pm Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I had the privilege last week of leading a discussion on Medicare’s future with 20 members of the “Great Decisions Group” at the Cass County Council on Aging.

Having met with the group on two previous occasions — once about lobbying and the other about campaign finance reform — I knew they would be well-prepared and very engaging.

Just six weeks before Election Day, the three hours we spent together was free from political partisanship, and refreshingly open. While the title of the discussion last week was “Can We Afford the Affordable Health Care Act?” we mostly talked about Medicare and the provisions of Obamacare that will impact the program.

We all agreed that political ads — both Democratic and Republican — claiming that $700 billion will be cut from Medicare is just plain wrong. Nothing is being cut or will be cut in the future. What Congress and the Obama Administration have done is limit the growth of the program over the next 10 years. More money will be spent, but at a slower pace.

Speaking of Congress, we all agreed that cuts in the payroll tax made in 2011 and again this year did little to stimulate the economy and made the problem of Medicare’s solvency even worse.

We all liked that more preventive care and better prescription drug coverage will kick in over the next 24 months, but there were few who appreciated the hidden costs and the billions in new taxes that will be required to pay for the proposed improvements. We discussed the 18 tax increases included in the Affordable Health Care Act with mixed reactions.

And finally, we talked about the so-called “Death Panels” and the high cost of dying. According to the Health Care Financing Administration, slightly more than half of all Medicare dollars are spent on patients who die within two months.

We rightly concluded that everyone — young and old — needs to make plans reflecting their dying wishes if they choose not to be resuscitated or don’t want to be placed on life support without hope of recovery. It’s a tough conversation to have, but we all need to make those decisions for ourselves so our surviving loved ones don’t have to make the call themselves.

It seems that including the “Death Panels” in the Affordable Health Care Act was constructive and cost-saving, whether we like it or not.

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