Public Support for Medicare is at an All-Time High,
But Experts See Continuing Threats to the Program
Sept. 25, 2018, WASHINGTON – The Center for Medicare Advocacy held a media briefing today to shed light on ongoing and upcoming threats to the Medicare program. The beloved program, which provides health care to nearly 20 percent of Americans, is already being cut back and privatized through policy and structural changes. In addition, against the wishes of most voters, some lawmakers are calling for drastic changes to Medicare, in part to solve the manufactured budget crisis created by recent massive tax cuts.
“We know health care matters to voters,” says Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “We know Medicare is a nationally treasured program. But we fear current efforts to privatize Medicare, and longer term plans to cut and change the program entirely, are flying way below the radar. Our goal is to remind media, voters and candidates that Medicare matters – to voters of all persuasions throughout the country. We are launching a SaveMedicareNow campaign, to help raise the future of Medicare as a key concern for Midterm candidates and voters.”
It is time to address these issues, but many so-called solutions will harm beneficiaries and families. Raising the eligibility age reduces the overall health of the beneficiary pool, raising costs. Turning Medicare into a fixed contribution “voucher” program, or further privatizing Medicare will simply shift costs to individuals and families and profit insurance companies. Further, a recent national survey of Medicare beneficiaries shows that privatization does not even lead to more engagement or satisfaction for beneficiaries. Says Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, “If only 13% of people in those plans are switching every year, that means that the competition between plans isn’t as great as it could be and that’s one of the reasons why these plans are not achieving the cost savings that proponents of private Medicare plans would have you believe.”
Health care is a leading concern for voters in the upcoming mid-term elections, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and support for Medicare in particular remains high by all objective measures. Protecting Medicare and Social Security, in particular, rate highly on voters’ agendas. According to Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners, “support for these policies has actually been increasing over time.” Preventing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, says Ms. Lake, “is more popular than almost every member of Congress.” Voters must carefully gauge candidates’ positions on health care, particularly Medicare, including measures that will affect quality, access, and affordability of care.
There are immediate, responsible ways to strengthen the program, such as extending Medicaid drug rebates to low-income Medicare beneficiaries, negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, and ending all overpayments to private Medicare plans. There are also viable long-term options, if we have the commitment to truly embrace the value of Medicare. “Medicare is not out of control or in need of massive cuts. It is not crying out for privatization. The Medicare program is largely a success story. Medicare as a whole has grown on a per-capita basis more slowly than the private insurance market,” said Marilyn Moon, Institute Fellow at American Institutes for Research. “We should spend some time and effort thinking about whether or not spending a little money now can actually make the system more efficient over time.”
Every candidate this Fall must have a real plan to address the threats to the traditional Medicare program. Medicare needs long-term answers that will secure the program for all Americans, not just those in private plans. “There are ready solutions if policy-makers have the will,” concludes Ms. Stein. “We can’t stand by and let Medicare be turned into a private program that costs taxpayers more, and offers most beneficiaries less. We can, we must, save Medicare now.”