Medicare Growing Fiscally Unsustainable, Yet Remains Politically Untouchable

Medicare, "an indispensable safety net," is fiscally unsustainable in the long term, yet it may be politically untouchable, The Center for Public Integrity reports in the first of a multipart series.

"With its one-two punch of rising health care costs and more seniors to cover, Medicare will eat up more and more of the federal budget in the years ahead." Yet "[w]hen either Democrats or Republicans try to suggest ways to trim the costs, they're accused of trying to push Grandma down the stairs in her wheelchair. Republicans did it to the Democrats during the debate over the new health care law, and Democrats are doing it now, at the height of election season, as Republicans float their own proposals." The program is "growing faster than the economy, and if that keeps up, Medicare could cause the national debt to swell up to more than two-thirds of the gross domestic product in just the next decade."

The article continues: "Medicare also provides a vivid and alarming window into why America's entire health care system is so expensive. Nationally, health care experts believe that as much as a third of all health care spending — about $800 billion a year — goes to health care that doesn’t make us better. ... An analysis of Medicare claims data that was obtained jointly by the Center for Public Integrity and The Wall Street Journal reveals how Medicare is paying millions of dollars for procedures and services that, based on available evidence, don’t really make sick people better" (Nather, 10/26).

The New York Times, meanwhile, writes about the bipartisan debt-reduction commission and notes that the "midterm campaign that has turned heavily on the issue of the mounting federal debt is likely to yield a government even more split over what to do about it, people in both parties say, with diminished Democrats and reinforced Republicans confronting internal divisions even as they dig in against the other side. ... The report of the 18-member commission, which includes a dozen senior members of Congress, six from each party, will help determine whether a bipartisan consensus exists to deal with the unsustainable combination of fast-growing entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare and inadequate tax revenues. The group has delayed making decisions until after the election, to avoid leaks that would become campaign fodder, but even some of its members doubt they can muster the 14 votes needed to send a package to Congress for a vote" (Calmes, 10/25).

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