Congresswoman Lujan Grisham: Keeping our Commitment to Seniors on Medicare

Yesterday, Congresswoman Lujan Grisham introduced an amendment to the Republican budget proposal in the House Budget Committee in order to increase access, quality, and affordability in the Medicare guarantee to seniors.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The Republican plan ends traditional Medicare’s guarantee of a specific set of health benefits available to all seniors.

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham

For the fourth straight year, the Republican budget includes a plan that would shift health care costs onto seniors. And I can tell you what that means. It means that out-of-pocket costs reach a point where seniors start to defer treatment. They don’t get a procedure that they really need because they don’t have the money.

They talk about giving seniors choices. That sounds nice, but “premium support” is by definition a voucher program. That means increased costs for seniors; this plan would shift costs from the Medicare program to beneficiaries, forcing seniors to pay more for their healthcare.

The Congressional Budget Office analyzed a similar plan in last year’s Republican budget and found that federal Medicare expenditures on behalf of an average new beneficiary would continually decrease over the next several years, slashing benefits by up to 42% in 2050.

And I wonder what a senior is supposed to do to make up that difference. It’s not easy to find a job or get a 42% raise right now for anyone, and it’s much harder if you’re a senior citizen.

So what do we tell a senior who requires wound care for a limb? That we’ll cover 58% of that care? From the forearm up? That sounds ridiculous because it is.

Even seniors that choose to remain in traditional Medicare would pay 25 percent higher premiums on average than they do now. So, we’re either talking about drastically reduced benefits, much higher costs, or both.

Under the Republican proposal, Medicare would change from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program. So, rather that defining a package of benefits that seniors can count on and covering the cost of those benefits, the federal government would simply decide how much it was willing to spend. If that doesn’t cover a certain procedure, too bad.

Future beneficiaries would either have to pay thousands of dollars more out of their own pockets on premiums for a plan that provides the current Medicare benefit package, or else buy plans that may leave them significantly underinsured. An underinsured population will create sicker people who are more expensive to care for.

This problem will be exacerbated as baby boomers continue to enter the system. According the Journal of the American Medical Association, baby boomers are less physically active and more overweight, and have higher cholesterol and higher rates of hypertension than other Americans. Chronic diseases like these are expensive to treat.

In a voucher system, traditional Medicare would have much less ability to control costs and offer a broad choice of providers, because private plans would employ various strategies to “cherry-pick” the healthiest enrollees. As a result, traditional Medicare would have a sicker pool of enrollees and would ultimately “wither on the vine.”

Seniors remaining in what’s left of Medicare under the GOP plan will face the risk of skyrocketing costs and less access to care.

This policy is bad for seniors, it’s bad for providers, and it’s bad for our health care system.”