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A Healthier Outlook as Medicare Celebrates 49 Years

PHOTO: As Medicare marks its 49th birthday, a report suggests health-care reform has helped to improve the program's solvency. Photo credit: Kristine Kisky/morguefile.
PHOTO: As Medicare marks its 49th birthday, a report suggests health-care reform has helped to improve the program's solvency. Photo credit: Kristine Kisky/morguefile.
July 30, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Today is Medicare's 49th birthday, but questions linger about how many more birthdays the program will be able to celebrate.

The influx of baby boomers reaching retirement age and increasing medical costs have lawmakers looking for options to prevent the program from going bankrupt. Sam Burnett of Toledo, who works to educate and promote Medicare in Ohio, said efforts to cut benefits will shift the burden to beneficiaries, not reduce the cost of care.

"What they're trying to do is increase the age of eligibility, which means if they increase it from 65 to 67 for Medicare, that's two years that those people will have lost their benefits," he said, "Our task is to make sure they understand that legislation will have an impact on a great many of our seniors."

The 2014 Medicare and Social Security Trustees report released this week showed the growth of health-care costs has slowed, in part through health-care reform, to improve the financial picture for Medicare. It said the program's hospital trust fund will pay full benefits until 2030, four years later than last year's report.

Medicare is adding an estimated 10,000 members a day and last year covered more than 52 million people nationwide. Burnett called it the lifeblood - not only for older people, but also their children and spouses. He talked about how it helped a woman he worked with who was injured in a truck accident.

"Without Medicare, her children would not have had Medicare services that they needed," he said, "She would not have had the medicine, the surgery, the follow-up. So basically, without that, her three children would have suffered, she would have suffered."

There's been some discussion about changing the payment structure to reduce Medicare costs. Some believe paying providers to care for each patient - instead of paying them based on the numbers and types of services they perform - would give doctors more flexibility and result in more personalized patient care.

The trustees' report is online at cms.hhs.gov.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH