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Op-Ed: Strengthening Medicare Through Health Care Reform


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A column by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill

Thousands of Missouri seniors, like my mother Betty Anne, rely on Medicare for their health care. However, if Medicare remains on the same course as it is today, it will run out of money by 2017 and seniors may be without coverage.

Additionally, without adequate reforms, Medicare is on track to cut payments to physicians by as much as 21 percent starting next year, which may cause some doctors to drop Medicare patients.

By rooting out more than $400 billion in identified waste, fraud, and inefficiencies, we can make sure Medicare remains solvent for years to come, ensure doctors are paid fairly so that seniors can keep their doctors, and not cut benefits for seniors.

Let me say that again -- no Medicare benefits would be cut through these reforms.

Now I know that's not what we've been hearing from recent advertisements and in these new "reports".

I'll let you in on a little secret. Those advertisements and "reports" are all coming from the same group -- the health insurance industry.

However, despite the billions of dollars being spent to stop health insurance reform, the truth is starting to catch up. Just last month, a tax firm that prepared a recent "report" admitted that they were asked to provide skewed, cherry-picked information.

Ultimately, the assertion that reforms to Medicare would result in cuts is simply not true. The AARP has emphasized that there are no cuts to Medicare in the reform bills and that reform is critical to improving and maintaining Medicare benefits for seniors.

In fact, the most recent version of health insurance reform legislation in the U.S. Senate includes a package of new benefits.

Reforms would protect spouses from being forced to meet poverty requirements in order to access Medicaid home and community-based programs.

Medicare beneficiaries would be newly eligible for free preventative care services, like mammograms and colonoscopy screenings without deductibles, copayments and other cost-sharing fees.

Reform would reduce by as much as 50 percent the gap in prescription drug coverage. Seniors are currently paying an average of $4,080 per year because of the Medicare Part D "donut hole" coverage gap.

Further, by making current programs like the privately-managed Medicare Advantage program more efficient, Medicare could save more that $100 billion over the next ten years.

Medicare Advantage costs on average 14 percent more than traditional Medicare, despite no evidence that care under the program is superior. And although only some beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage, all Medicare beneficiaries subsidize that extra cost. It is important to level the playing field and ensure efficiency, as well as excellence, in both the government and private programs.

And we've all seen the television advertisements for medical devices subsidized by Medicare, like motorized scooters, which highlight the commercial profit to be made from Medicare payments. While scooters cost suppliers $1,048, Medicare is charged as much as $4,018.

With many opportunities to improve efficiency and root out waste in Medicare as a part of health insurance reform, seniors can enjoy improved benefits and continue seeing the doctors of their choice.

And the best part is that through common-sense reforms, this effective health care coverage will be available to future generations of seniors.

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