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Medicare changes are coming, no matter what

August 21, 2012
Gary Andersen, Lee Smith , Fairmont Sentinel

Medicare is the federal health care program for senior citizens. Relied upon by millions and millions of older Americans, the program is popular but facing some troubling issues. As health care costs continue to rise, so do Medicare costs. Also, as baby boomers retire, they are creating a generational bulge, pushing the system to the breaking point. That point will come within the next decade, when Medicare will become insolvent. The long-term view for the program does not improve. There are tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, meaning the program will not have the funds to provide care for the retiring generations to come.

Medicare is, of course, of vital concern to older Americans in the Fairmont area and around the country. On the campaign trail, presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are trying to use the issue to garner votes. But, essentially, both agree there have to be limits on how much seniors pay for Medicare, and that Medicare spending must be controlled.

Obama would rely on cutting payments to providers. That is a path of peril, because nothing requires a provider to accept Medicare patients. Which means seniors could lose access to the highest-quality care. Romney would limit taxpayers' exposure to Medicare bills. He would give future retirees a fixed amount of money to buy a health care plan from the private sector or government. The worry with this plan is that the government voucher for health care won't be enough, shifting costs to seniors or forcing them to choose lower-quality care.

If these two plans sound like two sides of the same coin, they are. Medicare is an attempt to guarantee health care to seniors, but the promise is running up against financial reality. Neither candidate can bend reality. No one can. What seems likely is a shift in Medicare from a solid promise to more of a helping hand.



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