Medicare is the foundation of health security for older Americans. Strengthening Medicare and ensuring it will be there for future generations is a major priority. This requires eliminating waste and containing costs.
ACA Strengthened Medicare
The Affordable Care Act took important steps to strengthen Medicare. The law will improve guaranteed benefits for prescription drugs, by phasing out the “doughnut hole” – the costly gap in coverage reached by people with high drug costs. It also improved coverage of preventive services, including screenings for major disease, and added an annual wellness checkup. The Medicare trust fund was extended for almost an additional decade.
Rising Costs in Health Care System Are the Problem
Rising costs in the broader U.S. health care system are the main factor driving up Medicare costs and projected deficits in the federal budget. Medicare benefits are not the culprit. Big cuts to Medicare benefits or payment levels will only cause suffering and shift costs, without solving the fundamental problem of health care inflation.
Medicare Needs to be Improved
Medicare still has noteworthy limits that ultimately should be addressed. Over time, and as budget realities permit, Medicare should add benefits for vision, dental and hearing services, which private insurers routinely provide to younger Americans. Medicare also should expand its extremely limited coverage for long-term services and supports, and it should improve mental health benefits. AARP supports a cap on annual, out-of-pocket medical costs in Medicare to protect seniors from unaffordable out of pocket costs.
AARP calls on Medicare Advantage plans to continue to offer consumers competitive benefit packages. We support bonus payments for the best plans, as a way to encourage quality and competition in the marketplace.
Congress must establish a permanent solution for setting physician payments in Medicare. Continuing uncertainty over payment levels could discourage some doctors from participating in the program, reducing seniors’ access to health care.