Private Insurers are looting the Medicare system.
These insurers are profiting at Medicare's expense, increasing the chances
that traditional Medicare will be wrecked before the Baby Boomers are old enough
to get it, according to a Medicare Payment Advisory Commission analysis, released
It wasn't supposed to be that way.
A few years ago -- when the Medicare Modernization Act was shoved through Congress
in the dark of the night -- proponents claimed that by pushing private insurance
plans for people on Medicare, the act would save the program money. These Medicare
Advantage plans were supposed to make the system more efficient.
Instead, the report reveals, Medicare spends 11 percent more for beneficiaries
in Medicare Advantage plans than for people in traditional Medicare. Not only
are private insurers costing Medicare more now, but the Bush administration
has taken steps to lock in overpayments for years.
There was no need for private insurers in Medicare in the first place. Traditional
Medicare has been highly efficient, in terms of both administrative costs and
what it pays to the medical-care system.
In the past, lawmakers have tried to open Medicare to private insurers. In
the 1990s, when Medicare began paying insurers according to their costs, insurers
fled the system, leaving many seniors with unpaid bills.
The looting of the program by these private companies is not only a bad deal
in the short run. It's also part of a move to undermine Medicare before the
Baby Boomers can get it.
Here's how that would go:
First, the private insurers help run down Medicare's resources. Second, the
government declares traditional Medicare too broke for business as usual. (Since
the Medicare Modernization Act passed, Medicare trustees have declared the program
less and less solvent each year.) Finally, the government claims that the only
solution is to give the whole program over to the private insurers.
And once private insurers have it all, they can slash benefits behind closed
doors, so that Medicare will no longer be a reliable medical plan. Although
it would pay for some medical care, it would leave huge areas uncovered. People
on Medicare would be left to suffer the consequences.
Instead of wrecking Medicare, the Bush administration should be saving it.
It could start by stopping the overpayments to private insurers, so that the
looters leave Medicare.
We must save Medicare and assure access to health care for future generations.
Ramon Castellblanch, an assistant professor of health
education at San Francisco State University, wrote this for the Progressive
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