In North Carolina, the Senate race between incumbent Richard Burr and challenger Deborah Ross is increasingly focusing on Medicare. Will Republican control of the Senate hinge on what North Carolinians think about Medicare reform?
At issue is Senator Burr’s 2012 proposal (never actually put in bill for) to restructure Medicare. When he announced it, Burr said, “We made a promise to our seniors that Medicare will be there when they need it most, but the program as it currently stands is broken. We have a moral obligation to our parents, children, and all Americans to take steps now to save Medicare. The Medicare program in its current form is unsustainable, and we have an obligation and opportunity to improve it for our nation's seniors within the next few years.”
Ross is charging that Burr introduced his plan to help insurance companies, not seniors. According to Ross, “some politicians in Washington want to fundamentally change Medicare by privatizing it and putting the insurance companies in charge. For example, Richard Burr has taken more than $1 million from insurance companies. In turn, he wrote a plan that would raise the retirement age, privatize Medicare, and give seniors a voucher that may or may not cover their health care costs. While this may help private insurers' profits, it will force seniors to pay more.”
Senator Burr has said he stands by his proposal. However, he also distances himself from it, saying, “We threw that out as an option as to what could be considered. Until you decide what you’re going to do with the Affordable Care Act, there’s no sense in even having a debate on what Medicare in the future looks like or how you make Social Security sustainable.”
What would Burr’s Medicare plan, dubbed “The Seniors’ Choice Act,” actually do?
- Limit out-of-pocket expenses for seniors in traditional Medicare Parts A and B
- Provide targeted care coordination for seniors in traditional Medicare
- Increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 over 12 years
- Starting in 2016, this proposal would have allowed seniors to receive funds from the government to choose a private Medicare plan
The last part is the most controversial part of the legislation. Senator Burr contends that allowing seniors to have choice for their Medicare plans will give seniors a “choice of a better benefit that meets their individual health care needs.” Ross calls it “privatization.”
Ross has also released a Medicare plan, which includes:
- Paying doctors based on quality, not quantity, of care
- Cracking down on inefficiencies, errors, and abuse
- Giving consumers information and incentives to make better health care decisions
- Ending the FDA backlog for generic drug approval
When Senator Burr says that Medicare is unsustainable, he is talking about the program’s future unfunded liabilities. The Senate Finance Committee’s Republican staff sum up the issue in a 2015 analysis: “Assuming current law remains unchanged, the Trustees project Medicare’s 75 year total spending in excess of dedicated revenues is $27.9 trillion. Again, using the CMS Actuary’s more realistic alternative scenario, that figure soars to $36.8 trillion.”
What do you think? Should Medicare be reformed along the lines of what Senator Burr has suggested? Or is Ross right to focus on minor fixes to the program?