Monday, February 6, 2017

Medicare promises

By Mary Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

Two million Ohioans depend on Medicare for health care, and keeping the program strong is among the challenges facing the Trump administration and congressional leaders.

Government reports show the program will not be fully funded after 2028, and among the solutions suggested by lawmakers is a Republican-backed "premium support program."

Luke Russell, director of advocacy for AARP Ohio, explains it's essentially a voucher program that would dramatically increase health care costs for current and future retirees. That's why he says AARP is asking Congress to follow the president's lead.

"The president pledged he would not cut Medicare," Russell points out. "Older Americans were instrumental in electing President Trump and the Republican Congress, and now those voters are counting on both Congress and the president to lead and protect Medicare. That's one promise we're hoping the president keeps."

Medicare currently is a single payer program that pays for health care directly. The GOP proposal, which aims to reduce costs in order to extend the lifetime of Medicare, would give older Americans a fixed monthly subsidy to buy coverage, instead of guaranteeing their existing level of benefits.

Volunteers and workers with AARP are meeting with congressional leaders as part of an aggressive national campaign to fight any proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Russell says lawmakers should be protecting the health and financial security of older Americans, who sometimes must stretch every dollar.

"The average income for people over 65 is approximately $25,000 a year," he explains. "One out of every $6 is spent on health care. The average retiree will spend approximately 20 percent of their income on health care, whereas the general working population spends about 10 percent on health care."

Besides putting 2 million Ohio seniors' benefits at risk, Russell says, the proposal also threatens the benefits of about 2.4 million workers currently paying into the system and set to transition to Medicare over the next 15 years.

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