Medicare: Meeting Women’s Needs Today and Tomorrow
We strongly disagree with former Senator Alan Simpson, who told Bloomberg News earlier this week, “Medicare is on automatic pilot. It will use up every resource in the government.”
Senator Simpson is known for his rhetorical flair and long-standing interest in our nation’s fiscal health. He recently co-chaired a national commission on fiscal responsibility and is well known for telling Americans that we need to make tough fiscal choices. Unfortunately, he characterizes Medicare as a budget conundrum, not the critically important health insurance program it really is. Medicare covers hospital care, doctors’ visits, diagnostic tests, rehabilitation, home health care, preventive care and more for more than 47 million older Americans and individuals with disabilities. For 47 years it has been a pillar of our nation’s health care system, and – because Medicare enrollees are older, sicker and need more health care services than the rest of the population – is an important source of revenue for health care providers. For example, Medicare payments represent 28 percent of national spending on hospital care and 45 percent of spending on home health services.
Women, in particular, depend on Medicare. Women comprise 55 percent of total Medicare enrollees, and 63 percent of dually-eligible beneficiaries – individuals who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid coverage, and are the poorest and sickest people with Medicare coverage. Because women experience more health problems, receive lower Social Security payments and live longer than men, they rely more heavily on Medicare coverage to meet their health care needs.
Without a doubt, Medicare faces challenges ahead. With the aging of the baby boom, Medicare enrollment will grow from 47 million people today to nearly 81 million people in 2030. Growth in per capita program spending typically mirrors the growth rate of per capita spending in private health insurance – and both grow faster than the nation’s economy.
But these challenges require much more than simply cutting the Federal government’s share of Medicare spending. Later this year, Congress will grapple with far-reaching budget problems, including taxes, entitlement spending and the defense budget. Some leaders in Congress, such as Congressman Paul Ryan, have proposed big changes that would privatize Medicare and shift health care costs to Medicare enrollees – whose share of Medicare costs would more than double compared to today’s program.
Policymakers need to know that Medicare is not just a budget problem – it is a critical safety net for American women. They need to protect this safety net to ensure that it remains vital and vibrant in the years to come.
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