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Medicare Voucher Proposal Will Increase Health Care Costs for Older Pennsylvanians

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Medicare Voucher Proposal Will Increase Health Care Costs for Older Pennsylvanians

By Joanne Grossi and Bill Johnston-Walsh

Major changes being considered by our elected officials in Washington could dramatically increase costs for Pennsylvania’s 2.3 million older adults currently counting on Medicare benefits for their health care needs.

That’s because some on Capitol Hill are proposing to replace Medicare’s guaranteed benefits with a voucher program as a way to reduce health care costs.  The voucher program, sometimes known as premium support, would provide consumers with a fixed dollar amount to help pay for care in the private marketplace.

Many experts agree that vouchers will be an expensive proposition for older adults.  Studies by the Congressional Budget Office and Medicare Payment Advisory Commission suggest that moving to vouchers could hit most Medicare beneficiaries in the pocketbook.

Here in Pennsylvania , residents in poor health would quickly feel the pain of a voucher system. That includes the 31% percent that have two or three chronic health conditions and rely on care they can afford.  Those with limited resources could end up in health plans that restrict their choice of doctors and demand high out-of-pocket spending to get needed care.

What’s more, replacing traditional Medicare benefits with a voucher system would increase out-of-pocket costs for current and future retirees exactly at a time when they can least afford it. Nationally, one in four Medicare beneficiaries has an income below $14,350, and the income for one in two is lower than $24,150. For them, increasing  health care costs could be disastrous, forcing many to choose between going to the doctor and paying for other necessities like food, medicines and utilities.

Current Medicare beneficiaries need to know that the coverage they rely on every day will not be reduced or taken away. In addition, the 2.7 million Pennsylvanians age 50 and older who will enter the program in the next 15 years must also know that the promise of guaranteed benefits will be kept.

During his campaign President Trump pledged to protect Medicare and Social Security, at one point 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. The importance of Medicare to aging Americans is indisputable. Today, 57 million Americans rely on Medicare to help pay for their prescription drugs, doctor visits and hospitalizations. Workers have earned these benefits by paying into the program throughout their working lives.

While Medicare certainly needs to be strengthened for future generations, shifting costs to seniors and workers who’ve paid into the system 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 eliminating over-testing, waste and fraud.

The cost of prescription drugs alone is cause for real concern.  The average charge for a year's supply of a single prescription drug has more than doubled since 2006, and is now over $11,000. That total represents about 75% of the average Social Security retirement benefit, or almost half the median income for Medicare beneficiaries.  Multiply those charges by the numerous drugs that many seniors take, and you quickly see the magnitude of the problem.

At AARP, we’re committed to working with elected officials of both parties to ensure that Medicare remains financially stable. But solutions must be responsible. On behalf of our 1.8 million Pennsylvania members and 38 million throughout the nation, AARP will continue to champion a Medicare system that delivers on the deal Americans rely on and deserve.

The bottom line is rising health care costs are a problem for Americans of all ages and political views. The issue needs to be tackled by both parties-- but responsibly. Congress should commit to protecting Medicare and look for other ways to target rising health care costs, such as by lowering drug prices.

Today’s Medicare program is the bedrock of health security for all Americans as they age.  The program keeps older adults out of poverty and allows them to live with independence and dignity. A proposed voucher system would take health care in the wrong direction and increase costs for older Americans at a time of life when they can least afford it.

Joanne Grossi is Volunteer State President of AARP Pennsylvania

Bill Johnston-Walsh is State Director of AARP Pennsylvania

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