Every day, 10,000 people in the U.S. celebrate their 65th birthday, making each one of these seniors eligible for Medicare. The very program that gives America’s seniors access to affordable health care will turn a youngish 48 on July 30, but in a biting irony, it could go bankrupt before reaching its 65th birthday.
We cannot wish away or ignore the reality that Medicare’s Part A trust fund — the portion that pays hospital claims — is currently projected to run out of money by 2026. The good news, however, is that it is possible to put Medicare on a sustainable path if we can surmount current political hurdles.
It is no secret that Washington is better known for what it is not doing than what it is doing these days. Partisan gridlock has proved to be an insurmountable impasse for potentially worthy legislative efforts. This is especially true when it comes to making the changes needed to sustain Medicare’s future, where Washington is truly making things much harder than they need to be.
Much of the current debate has focused on reforms that would only slightly defer Medicare’s pending insolvency, with the potential for mere cost-shifting. With many of those recommendations, political disagreement is so strong that an extremely limited chance exists to pass a compromise version. However, even if enacted, these reforms would only address the symptoms of Medicare’s condition rather than the underlying problem. The result would only help Medicare limp to its 65th birthday at best.
There is a much more meaningful reform out there that addresses the underlying problem, and, surprisingly, bipartisan consensus exists around the need to end the fee-for-service system in Medicare.
The current fee-for-service payment system compensates physicians and other health care providers for each service they deliver, such as an office visit, test or other procedure. While it is critical that providers be fairly compensated, Medicare’s fee-for-service structure contributes to inefficient care that is often disconnected with actual patient outcomes. It has accelerated the program’s financial imbalance with inflationary spending that has little or no connection to helping beneficiaries get healthier. Continue reading…
The Medicare Board of Trustees just released its latest report on the program’s finances and the results are terrifying. Despite a decline in health care costs, the Medicare Trust Fund will be bankrupt in 2026.
For the program to survive for future generations, innovation will be essential. The old medical paradigm of diagnosing and treating diseases must give way to a more holistic approach aimed at eliminating risk factors that lead to disease. The best place to start is by addressing the growing problem of adult obesity.
In the past 30 years, the percentage of American adults who are obese has doubled, driving a sharp rise in such chronic conditions as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
The ramifications for health spending are significant. Annual health costs for obese individuals are more than $2,700 higher than for non-obese people. That adds up to about $190 billion every year. And many of these costs are borne by Medicare, which will spend a half-trillion dollars over the next decade on preventable hospital readmissions alone.
We cannot afford to wait until patients are on Medicare to fight obesity. Rather, we need to encourage weight control over the course of patients’ lives.
Fortunately, we now have an ideal opportunity to implement reforms. The new health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act can establish effective care coordination strategies to identify and treat chronic conditions earlier, addressing not just the immediate conditions but the underlying ones as well. Obesity is one of the most common. Medicare, in turn, can adopt these strategies, and the benefits for both patients and taxpayers will be substantial. Continue reading…
The current debate around how to best control burgeoning health costs has pushed the issue of prevention to the forefront. That’s right where it should be. By shifting our health care to be more pro-active and prevention-oriented, we can make a major impact on common and costly chronic diseases such as diabetes. In turn, this will help to secure the financial stability of our health care system and continued economic growth and prosperity.
Over the past century, the burden of disease among Americans has shifted from acute and infectious illness to chronic disease. With more than 75 cents of every dollar in this nation spent on patients with chronic disease, prevention offers the opportunity not to spend more money — but spend smarter. By embracing prevention, we can help more Americans lead healthier, active lives free from disease, so that they can avoid costly complications and hospitalizations, and remain productive in their communities and workplaces.
Prevention today involves a lot more than flu shots, cancer screening, and annual checkups. It is a pro-active strategy of disease avoidance and mitigation that should be embraced throughout and beyond the health system. In the context of chronic illnesses such as asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease and diabetes, prevention runs the gamut from lifestyle changes to screening for risk factors and symptoms, to early intervention to slow or reverse disease, to active management of already present cases.