By Ron Bridges
AARP Kentucky has just launched a campaign to let Congress know we oppose any plan to increase Medicare costs and risk for seniors and today’s workers. We believe Kentuckians have earned Medicare by paying in with each and every paycheck.
Proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher system would take healthcare in the wrong direction – ramping up costs for current and future retirees, and eroding protections that Americans have earned through many years of hard work and taxes.
Unfortunately, in a short-sighted attempt to save money, vouchers are being promoted on Capitol Hill as an answer to rising costs.
They are not the answer. Vouchers pose troubling risks for more than 813,000 Kentuckians who are currently in Medicare, not to mention the 906,000 Kentucky residents age 50 and older who will enter the program over the next 15 years.
Fortunately, President Trump has promised to protect Medicare and Social Security, telling older voters: “I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare. You made a deal a long time ago.”
Congress needs to follow the President’s lead. Vouchers would break a basic promise of Medicare, which is to provide a guaranteed benefit package. Under a voucher system, also known as premium support, this promise could be tossed aside. Instead, consumers would get a fixed dollar amount to help pay for care in the private marketplace.
If that amount turns out to be insufficient? Tough luck. Seniors and future retirees could have to pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets at a time in their lives when they can least afford it.
In the Bluegrass state, residents in poor health would quickly feel the pain of a voucher system. That includes the 30 percent who have two or three chronic health conditions and desperately rely on care they can afford. Many with limited resources could end up in health plans that restrict their choice of doctors and demand high out-of-pocket spending to get care. No one should have to choose between going to the doctor or keeping their lights on.
The risks posed by a voucher proposal, go against President Trump’s commitment to protect Medicare. Older voters helped decide the election and they’re counting on Congress to abandon this proposal.
Medicare does need to be strengthened for future generations, but shifting costs to seniors and workers who’ve paid into the system their entire working lives is the wrong approach. We can put Medicare on stable ground with commonsense solutions, such as clamping down on drug companies’ high prices, improving coordination of care and use of technology and cutting over-testing, waste and fraud.
For example, the average cost for a year’s supply of a prescription drug more than doubled since 2006 to over $11,000 in 2013. That’s about three-fourths of the average Social Security retirement benefit, or almost half the median income of people on Medicare. Multiply this by the two to four drugs that many
If you share our opposition to vouchers for Medicare, please contact your members of Congress to make sure your voice is heard.
-Ron Bridges is the AARP Kentucky state director.