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Voucher Plan Seen as Backdoor Medicare Cuts

Economists and seniors' groups say a plan in Congress to make Medicare into a voucher system will shift substantial costs onto older Americans. (AARP)
Economists and seniors' groups say a plan in Congress to make Medicare into a voucher system will shift substantial costs onto older Americans. (AARP)
February 6, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A plan in Congress to change the structure of Medicare is being called a threat to seniors' health and finances by economists and advocates, including the seniors' advocacy group AARP.

Led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republicans have voted to change Medicare from paying doctors directly to giving seniors vouchers they can use to buy private insurance – much like the subsidies in the insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, says that type of "premium support" would mean deep cuts in the program over time.

She warns to make up the difference, seniors would either have to pay thousands of dollars more out of pocket, or reduce the amount of medical care they get.

"Who's going to pay for that?” she asks. “Patients and consumers – American citizens, the elderly people in this country – are then going to be saddled with those burdens. And that's not actually going to lower costs overall."

Ryan calls the cuts necessary because growing costs threaten to bankrupt the system.

But Gould argues the real problem is the overall cost of health care. She says Medicare's costs are growing more slowly than private insurance, especially since the passage of health care reform.

Gould says it's strange to hear people who call the ACA, or Obamacare, a disaster, argue in favor of making Medicare more like it.

She agrees that forcing people to pay more of the cost of their own care would do little to slow health care inflation, and could actually reduce the use of cheaper, preventive care, which the current Medicare system encourages.

"Medicare has been the leader in being able to restrain cost growth, and so that should be the model that we follow,” she states. “I don't believe that that private competition is actually going to get you any cash savings in the long run."

The current Medicare system is extremely popular among the 57 million Americans enrolled in it. West Virginia has a larger portion of its population enrolled in the program than almost any other state.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV