Everything political kicks into high gear as election season draws nigh, and one of the more highly politicized debates is the one surrounding Medicare. And — make no mistake — Medicare is changing.
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press (via AJC) is one of the few to present a balanced look at the situation. He discovers that the two sides are really not that far apart:
Baby boomers take note: Medicare as your parents have known it is headed for big changes no matter who wins the White House in 2012. You may not like it, but you might have to accept it.
Dial down the partisan rhetoric and surprising similarities emerge from competing policy prescriptions by President Barack Obama and leading Republicans such as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
Limit the overall growth of Medicare spending? It’s in both approaches.
Squeeze more money from upper-income retirees and some in the middle-class? Ditto.
Raise the eligibility age? That too, if the deal is right.
Over 1.5 million baby boomers a year are signing up for Medicare benefits, making the program’s future of vital importance to anyone over 50. As far as economic issues go, this is a massive one. Since health care costs are not predictable, Medicare, as it currently stands, means a great deal to those enrolled. If health problems do enter the picture, the benefits reaped from the program can rapidly exceed the amount paid into the system.
The main dividing line between the Left and the Right on this issue is the idea of privatization. Right now, 25% of Medicare recipients are in private insurance plans under the banner of Medicare Advantage. Rep. Ryan’s plan would place 100% of future beneficiaries into the private plans.
Alonso-Zaldivar does a great job of breaking things down into plain English, so I will direct you to his article on AJC for more details.
No matter which side gains ascendancy, the entire equation will be changing. Numerous factors will ensure that. Some of those include:
- The program will be running out of money in 2024. After that, it will only be taking in enough payroll taxes to cover 90% of projected benefits.
- Researchers note that between 20% and 30% of Medicare’s annual spending is wasted on treatments that offer little or no benefit.
- Almost one-third of the 66 million Americans acting as caregivers to older relatives still have kids of their own in the home, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. This places even more financial stress on those who rely on this safety net.
No matter what, it’s worth becoming informed on this subject. In the meantime, staying safe and healthy is one of the best ways to prepare for the future.
Image: Medicare logo, used under Fair Use: Reporting.