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Mon, Oct. 21

Column: Saving Medicare before it's too late

Listening to feedback from my constituents, I know that Medicare is of utmost concern. Let's talk about the facts of Medicare and where we go from here.

What most people still don't know is that "Medicare as we know it" was already thrown out in 2010 by the last Congress. The president implemented long-term changes that substantially guts benefits, and cuts eligibility. Only, you don't hear much about it because these changes were tucked away in a 2,000-page bill in which we were told "you would just have to wait to see" what surprises it has. Well, surprise! Your Medicare benefits were cut.

Former CBO Director Doug Eakin testified this week that Medicare right now "no longer guarantees access to care." Because of last year's changes, more doctors won't take Medicare. So access to Medicare is already being reduced. Even the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, which famously supported the government take-over of healthcare, recently announced it will not take Medicare because of the Medicare panel that will keep payments low.

Other bad news: Medicare, which now provides health insurance to some 47 million elderly and disabled Americans, could begin running a deficit in 2024, five years earlier than projected last year. Its insolvency date keeps getting moved closer and closer. It will continue to move toward insolvency as our nation fails to generate jobs.

Medicare today is fundamentally flawed, in that it sets arbitrary price controls to reimburse hospitals and physicians. Generally speaking when physicians treat Medicare patients, they are treating them at a loss. We can only enact so many physician cuts before providers are forced to either go out of business, or stop accepting Medicare patients. Either way, that means denial of care for seniors.

You may have heard that Medicare was changed for the worse, and that members of Congress voted to slash Medicare. That's absolutely right - the name of the bill that gave our seniors such a raw deal was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), known to some as Obamacare. However you refer to it, it was a government takeover of healthcare, which slashes payments to the successful and popular Medicare Advantage (MA) program that will cost each MA beneficiary $1,800 in additional premiums by the year 2017.

PPACA also established the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The IPAB is a group of 15 bureaucrats, selected by the president. This board's sole purpose is to force Medicare expenses to fit within a certain budget by dictating to every medical provider, which Medicare benefits will be covered, and which will not. This approach will undoubtedly lead to fewer choices and less care. This is why I am a proud co-sponsor of H.R. 452 to repeal the IPAB.

The federal government's role in healthcare has not produced the results that our seniors were promised. It is clear that the path we're on is unsustainable, and will only lead to Medicare going broke. I am proud to have been counted among those who voted for a solution.

This spring, the House of Representatives passed a budget that reformed Medicare for the 21st century and will help continue the program. You may have heard some disinformation on what this new budget does, so I will set the record straight: It provides every Medicare beneficiary the choice of their own personalized healthcare plan, based on their wants and needs. The sick and low-income seniors who count on the program will have more subsidies in choosing their plan. And no beneficiary can be denied coverage under the plan.

This plan does not apply to current beneficiaries older than 55. I strongly believe that everyone should have a choice when it comes to their health insurance. In fact, this is why one of the first pieces of legislation I introduced upon coming to Congress was H.R. 1150, the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2011. H.R. 1150 would ensure that health insurance companies refrain from anti-competitive behavior under the Sherman Act, just as virtually every other business in the country is required to do.

I will continue to fight for responsible reform and try to save Medicare from its planned demise.

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