The Senate Finance Committee has held the first of eight congressional hearings aimed at figuring out how to fix health care in America. This week’s hearing included testimony by former HHS secretaries Donna Shalala and Tommy Thompson, who offered somewhat opposite strategies to tackle the mounting health care crisis facing the US. Thompson’s idea was to start by addressing shortfalls in the Medicare budget, which he said would run out of money in another decade. He proposed increasing Medicare revenue (likely meaning an increase in premiums for retirees?), increasing the age for Medicare eligibility, and cutting benefits in the program. None of these ideas are likely to go over well with America’s aging population – the baby boomers who are approaching retirement age will be less than pleased to have fewer health insurance benefits, higher premiums, and more years to go before they qualify for coverage. Shalala disagreed with Thompson, and would rather that we focus on simplifying the current health care system to eliminate waste and streamline the process in an effort to provide universal health care.
I must say, it seems sad that we currently don’t provide universal health care for our citizens until they reach age 65. In most developed countries, everyone has access to a system like our Medicare program, and they don’t have to wait until they have gray hair to qualify. Making people wait even longer doesn’t seem like a very noble solution (maybe they hoping that more people will die before reaching the eligible age, and never get Medicare benefits at all?). Cutting benefits doesn’t seem like a good idea either. Medicare is already somewhat lacking in benefits, and seniors without private Medigap policies can get stuck with some serious medical bills in the event of a long hospitalization or serious illness. Increasing premiums could be a viable solution to some extent. Since so many seniors are on a fixed income, any premium increase would have to be small, but a series of small increases several years in a row might help keep Medicare solvent.
We’re going to have to address cost control issues before we can tackle health care reform. Any way we look at it, we’ll have to reduce waste and excessive expenses in the health care industry, and pass the savings along to consumers who are struggling under the burden of health care expenses. Overall, I’d say that at the Colorado Health Insurance Insider, we agree with Donna Shalala’s thoughts on health care reform. Limiting benefits and restricting coverage to fewer people (which would be the result of an age increase for Medicare eligibility) is counterproductive to the overall goal, which should be to provide all Americans with access to truly affordable health care.