It’s an undeniable reality. The health care system costs too much, wastes too much, makes too many mistakes and gives us too little value for money. That’s why AARP believes Congress must pass health reform now—reform that controls costs, improves quality, and provides all Americans with affordable, quality health care choices.
Affordable health care for all Americans must be the goal. Right now, this basic necessity is increasingly out of reach, with mounting problems breeding cynicism, stress, and even despair. As a patient who is fast running out of money put it, “So much for the American dream.”
But as the debate heats up, rhetoric runs rampant. Nay-sayers are seizing the spotlight in efforts to derail real reform. They propagate myths about legitimate proposals to curb costs. They try to halt change.
Busting the Myths
Americans know we cannot afford to keep the status quo. It’s just not working. We need change. And, we need it now. So, let’s bust some of those myths.
Myth #1: We can’t afford to fix health care because we’re in a steep recession. AARP says, we can’t fix the economy without fixing health care.
The current economic crisis emphasizes the need to bring down the cost of health care—for individuals, families, businesses, and government. Health care costs are busting budgets across the board.
Laid-off workers are paying four to six times more for health care premiums than when they were employed. Meanwhile, health premiums for families are expected to double within the next ten years. And, if you’re between the ages of 50 to 64, you just might be priced out of affordable coverage.
For those who rely on Medicare, 30 percent of their income goes to health care costs.
Myth #2: Health reform means socialized medicine. AARP says, not true. In fact, we would oppose any proposal that bases our nation’s health care system exclusively on government programs because it would disrupt the thousands of people who already have health care that they want to keep. All reform proposals currently under serious consideration leave employer-sponsored coverage in place and with it, broad choices for people to pick their doctors and hospitals.
Myth #3: Health reform won’t help people who already have insurance. AARP says, those who have insurance are already paying for the uninsured through higher premiums and other costs. One study estimates the tab at $922 extra for family premiums, $341 extra for individuals.
Myth #4: Health care reform will force us to pay more for care that already costs too much. AARP says, the primary goal of health reform is to lower costs for everyone. This can be accomplished by making generic versions of more prescription drugs available, closing the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole,” and permitting Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Wasteful spending can also be combated by promoting the use of health information technology to help eliminate costly medical errors.
Myth #5: Health care reform is code for a “raid on Medicare.” AARP will fight with the strength of our 40 million members against any legislative proposals that unfairly harm people on Medicare. However, Medicare can cut costs without undermining care. For example, to crack down on wasteful spending, overpayments to insurance companies should be changed—rewarding those that provide good patient care, and reducing payments to those that don’t.
6 Steps for Health Reform
Bottom line: AARP is fighting to make sure health reform works for everyone. We believe that Congress should take six steps to guarantee that all Americans have the choice of quality health care plans they can afford:
Guarantee affordable coverage for Americans ages 50 to 64.
1. Close the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap—“doughnut hole.”
2. Create access to generic versions of costly biologic drugs used to treat cancer and other serious illnesses.
3. Prevent costly hospital readmissions by creating a Medicare follow up care benefit to help people transition home after a hospital stay.
5. Increase federal funding and eligibility for home and community based services through Medicaid so older Americans can remain in their homes and avoid more costly institutional care.
6. Improve programs that help low income Americans in Medicare afford the health care they need.
No matter the myths, with costs rising and coverage shrinking, the need for fair measures to reform the health care system has never been so urgent.
Deborah Banda is the state director of AARP Massachusetts, representing over 860,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State. This editorial appeared in a recent edition of the Fifty Plus Advocate, the statewide mature market newspaper.
To find out more about health care reform, myths versus reality, visit AARP.org/MA.