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Medicare Voucher Plan Called Threat to VA Seniors

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

RICHMOND, 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.

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.

Jim Dau, state director of AARP Virginia, says that type of "premium support" would mean deep cuts in the program over time.

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

"I don't know many people that are going to doctors' offices for fun,” Dau states. “The prospect of shifting the costs and risks to people so that they can self-ration their care – there's a lot of problems with this."

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

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

Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute, 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 stresses. “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. Dau says the changes would be a threat to the existence of a lifeline for more than 1 million Virginians.

"It isn't about lowering the cost of Medicare, or even lowering the cost of health care,” he stresses. “It's about lowering how much the government is going to spend on it.

“That gap in money has got to come from somewhere, and it's going to come from people who actually have to pay for the health care."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA