Editorial: Medicare 'progress' is a huge step back
Medicare. It's a dirty word nowadays. Doctors have little faith in it, patients depend upon it, health-related businesses rely on it, and Congress can't seem to fix it.
Readers of The Daily Courier and dCourier.com have seen this issue in-depth in a series over the past three days. Dozens of people responded to our call for their experiences. Because of so many replies we were not able to include them all. Many were along the lines of this one:
"We have had the same primary care physician for more than a decade, and fortunately, we both are considered to be in excellent health. You can imagine our distress this past week when our doctor told us we would have to find a new primary care doctor. His reason: He no longer is going to continue with Medicare patients, no matter what the circumstances. He said the new federal health care plan is forcing him to drop all his Medicare patients. He apologized with intense sincerity. Nevertheless, we now must find a new doctor."
And, despite the Senate advancing a fix late this past week to delay or stop the cuts that doctors fear, our lawmakers' action came too late. That's right: Congress did not act quickly enough.
Other residents told us about abuses in the system: how one man's oxygen tank/delivery system is covered by Medicare, and after years - when it was paid off - the supplier and insurance company had no qualms about re-billing Medicare for it; or the woman whose second-opinion doctor billed Medicare for tests he did not perform, unless you count how he read the test results the first doctor supplied.
It's simple. Yes, the system is broken. We see the Medicare solution, at least in part, as focusing on billing. The typical doctor loses about 10 percent in efforts to collect fees from insurance companies they have to deal with. The rules and regulations - and "cost controls" - are complex. This expense does nothing for patients; it is a health-care cost that produces no health care, as Time magazine stated this spring. It could easily be eliminated with simple, intelligent, centralized payment rules.
Other health care fixes would include streamlining licensing and other regulations, reforming the legal and malpractice system, and moving to computerized records. Other problems include continuing education, medical advertising, drug approval/testing, and the HMOs themselves, to name a few.
The trouble is the partisanship in Washington and what those leaders are calling "progress" is helping few, if any of us.