Letter to the Editor: Congress should not overlook Medicare in its list of issues

To the Editor:
Oct 18, 2013

To the Editor:

When the discussions in Washington return to what I consider the most pressing domestic economic issue in place of the current childishness, that being the federal deficit and the federal long term debt, I pray that adult heads will prevail. Voting more than 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act does not past muster. One of the issues that must be addressed is Medicare.

When Medicare originally passed in 1965, the participant would pay a maximum of 50 percent of the Plan B costs with the balance being paid out of general revenues. 

At the time, Medicare only had Part A, inpatient care coverage, and Part B, outpatient coverage. Part A was free and the premium for Part B was $3. Part C, managed care under the advantage program, and Part D, prescription drug coverage, were added later.

In 1972 coverage for speech therapy, for physical therapy, and for chiropractic care were added. In addition, younger disabled workers were added to the system. Finally, the premium could not exceed 25 percent of the cost of Medicare. All of this increased the amount that has to be provided by the general fund.

Currently, the basic premium is $104.90 for Part B coverage. Premiums range from $146.90 to $335.70 for higher income participants. 

There is also a penalty for signing up late that increases due to the time lapse. There are 43 million retirees and 9 million younger participants on Medicare with costs expected to be $594 billion this year.

Currently 16 percent of the federal budget is allotted to Medicare. This is projected to rise to 19 percent by 2035. With a few adjustments this could probably be provided well into the 21st century, were it not for the interest on the National Debt. Currently, 6 percent of the budget is for interest on the debt. 

This is projected to rise to 25 percent in 2035. The interest could very well consume a higher percentage of the federal budget due to rising interest rates. 

Another factor, of course, is that medical costs have been rising faster than the inflation rate and are projected to rise by 6.5 percent in 2014.

Medical expenses have not risen as much recently, due to the sequester which reduced Medicare payments by 2 percent, the recession which caused citizens to neglect treatment and more vigilant Medicare monitoring.

In a response to an email I sent to Sen. Bob Corker, he said that the current system is not sustainable. Without some changes, this statement is correct.

Multiple sources were used in this letter, including the Congressional Research Service, the Health Research Institute and the Pew Research Center.

Frank C. Newell



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