Medicare provides affordable health care for 62 million seniors and for people with disabilities. Americans pay into the program their entire working lives and are guaranteed benefits that help make health care accessible and affordable. Like those with other types of insurance, Medicare beneficiaries pay for a share of their costs and for services Medicare doesn't cover, often including routine dental, vision and hearing care. That adds up to thousands of dollars a year for some people.
One looming issue is the growing federal deficit. “At some point, Washington will turn its attention to reducing the deficit, and it could be very difficult to avoid making potentially significant changes to Medicare,” says Tricia Neuman, Senior Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “That's where the money is. Medicare is 15 percent of the federal budget."
Advocates for Medicare say politicians need to look at the root cause of rising program costs — namely, overall increases in the cost of health care. “The answer isn't to cut Medicare,” says Bill Sweeney, AARP Senior Vice President for Government Affairs. “The answer is to lower the costs that are driving up Medicare costs.".
"We need to build on what has been working in the Medicare program and strengthen it,” says Megan O'Reilly, AARP vice president for health and family issues. “The solution is not to just shift costs on to the people who have paid into this program their whole lives and rely on it."
What's at stake: Ensuring that Medicare can continue to provide access to quality and affordable health care for older Americans.
The issue: More than 62 million people 65 and older or with disabilities are enrolled in Medicare. Funding is an issue: The program's trustees estimate that within six years, Medicare won't be able to pay full hospital benefits. The results of November's elections could determine whether there will be an overhaul of the nation's entire health care system, an expansion of Medicare or a continuation of the current systems, with potentially smaller corrections.
- President: Whoever is president in 2021 and will appoint the leadership of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicare. He will also have the power to sign or veto any legislation that makes changes to Medicare — from funding the program to altering how it works and who is allowed to enroll.
- Senators and members of the House of Representatives: They oversee Medicare and enact legislation to make any changes to the program's structure and its funding. A number of lawmakers have crafted bills to create a “Medicare for All” system that would expand the program to younger Americans, but so far none has been voted on.
What older Americans think
While opinions vary widely on how to fix the overall U.S. health care system, almost all voters want Medicare to remain strong and consistent; 93 percent of 50-plus voters say that to win, candidates must talk about what they will do to prevent cuts to the program, according to an AARP public opinion poll.
Where AARP Stands
AARP has asked Congress and state lawmakers to take these actions:
- Allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.
- Make sure benefits are affordable, including premiums and cost sharing.
- Ensure that all people with Medicare have access to enough qualified health care providers.
- Sustain Medicare for the future by cracking down on waste and fraud.