Lawmakers Eye Medicare Cuts To Offset Reform Costs -- Much To Seniors' Dismay

Lawmakers are planning to pay for much of their plans to expand coverage to the uninsured by slowing Medicare spending by as much as $500 billion over 10 years, Long Island Newsday reports. Democrats say the only thing the cuts "take out of Medicare is waste" – in the words of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, - but Republicans who oppose the Democrat-led reform effort have warned that cuts will reduce services for seniors. Medicare Advantage payments to private plans would receive the sharpest cuts, while future payments to hospitals would also shrink. Some of the cuts represent savings hoped for through increased quality (Brune, 10/4).

Many seniors, including those like Elaine Jacek, who support health reform, are unnerved by the proposed cuts, the Detroit Free Press reports. "So far, she's skeptical about claims that changes under consideration on Capitol Hill won't hurt her." In fact, the cuts may threaten some benefits under the Medicare Advantage program. The program costs Washington 14 percent more than typical Medicare benefits. "Its beneficiaries often sing the praises of the coverage, but critics say it costs the government too much for what beneficiaries are getting and is unfair to the 78% of Medicare-eligible Americans who don't get it -- many of whom can't afford it" (Spandler, 10/4).

AARP representatives support reform and have tried to quell senior's worries, the Las Vegas Sun reports. Barry Gold, a Nevada official for the retirees' lobby, "tells seniors the reductions would come not in their benefits, but by reducing waste, fraud and abuse and changing the way Medicare pays hospitals and doctors." Gold's favorite example is when doctors who practice separately both have to order an X-ray for the same problem. "There's really no reason to do that… That's the cost of Medicare, and those are the things we can avoid" (Mascaro, 10/4).

AARP is finding itself in the role of a "referee" in "a battle between generations," The New York Times reports. AARP's "younger members, or those between the ages of 50 and 64, sometimes face terrible choices in the private insurance market, with age and declining health status making premiums high and benefits poor," and stand to benefit from health reform. Meanwhile, "members 65 and older get among the most secure medical benefits in the country, and many are in no mood to share" (Harris, 10/3).

Meanwhile, a congressional advisory committee on Medicare, known as MedPAC, has found in an unfinished report that while Medicare patients "receive significantly different amounts of health care services" depending on where in the country they live, there is no correlation between "a region's use of services and its growth in service use," American Medical News reports. "The MedPAC findings both confirm and counter previous research on Medicare spending by the Dartmouth Atlas Project, a team of researchers whose work has been cited repeatedly by the Obama administration and many key lawmakers" (Trapp, 10/5).

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