"This mismatch between what is covered and what is actually useful is the central flaw in Medicare today, a shock to families who have no clue, until they're smack in the middle of it, about how this system works. This mismatch tortures our elderly, drains the Medicare trust fund and leaves adult children with depleted retirement reserves," Jane Gross, a former New York Times reporter and eldercare expert, wrote in the Times recently. The system whose first beneficiary was born in 1884 needs to change with the times.
Wouldn't it be cheaper for both families and the government if day-to-day home care were covered? Wouldn't healthcare costs drop if more people were living independently at home or in assisted living facilities, rather than in expensive nursing homes and acute care hospitals? Plus, think of the healthcare jobs that will be created to serve the estimated 89 million Medicare beneficiaries we'll have by 2050.
So far, the solution to out-of-control Medicare expenditures has been to cut the reimbursement rate for doctors, which is resulting in 1 in 5 physicians now restricting the number of Medicare patients they'll see. Among primary care doctors, that number is now 1 in 3, according to the American Medical Association. That's a problem, as high-quality, efficient primary care is one of the keys to reforming our flawed system. We need more doctors, not fewer, taking Medicare patients.
As the "supercommittee" works to reform Medicare and put it back on a sound footing, let's hope that any sort of a "grand bargain" lawmakers propose saves taxpayer money and supports middle-class families by reducing the burden of chronic illnesses on our rapidly aging society. As my family is learning the hard way, it's the right thing to do.