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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Tinkering With Medicare May Trigger Revolt

By Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revie

Choosing wisely between a bewildering array of options offered by Medicare, Medicaid, Medigap and Medicare HMOs is a daunting task, as anyone at all knowledgable about the process will attest.

By and large, older persons and their families just muddle along, hoping for the best, most members of the Senior Legislative Coalition of Eastern Washington seemed to agree at a recent gathering.

Even more difficult to make sense of is the role of health care in the budget balancing act now being played out before Congress, according to Nick Beamer, who delivered a national legislative report.

There are only three absolutes, said the director of Aging & Long Term Care of Eastern Washington.

“All lawmakers want to balance the budget,” he said. “None is willing to raise taxes. And Medicare and Medicaid represent big chunks of the budget.”

Beamer said his agency generally stands behind the position taken by the American Association of Retired Persons. “If you boil it all down,” he said, “we need to make sure our lawmakers know how we feel about these points:

“Don’t increase the age of eligibility for Medicare - it will leave millions of older Americans without health insurance coverage.

“Don’t impose a copayment for Medicare home health services - it will place a tremendous burden on the oldest, poorest, and frailest Americans.

“Don’t income-relate (means test) Medicare premiums - it’s unneeded, unfair, and unworkable.”

Many, if not most, Americans may well wonder why means testing of Medicare premiums wouldn’t be a good solution. After all, the rich and, yes, the affluent, too, can well afford it. Shouldn’t they care more about their fellow man than they do the almighty dollar?

If people making more than $50,000 as an individual or $75,000 as a couple have to pay a little more - why not?

“Because it changes the entire concept of why and how we provide health care services for older Americans, which places the future of the entire program at risk,” said Maxine Davis, coalition treasurer, a director of the Washington Senior Lobby, and a member of the AARP State Legislative Committee.

If better off beneficiaries of Medicare don’t go along with the precedent that higher premiums set, they have the power to do away with the program. That, opponents of the plan claim, would nudge tens of millions of hard-working Americans into poverty - unable to pay for the health care they thought they had earned as fully contributing members of our society.

“For years and years, people have paid in,” said Beamer, “thinking the program would be there when they need it - but now a new group comes along and says, ‘No - we’re going to change it.’ If so, I suggest higher premiums be phased in, so people now working and contributing to Medicare and Medicaid have time to adjust to the expectation that if they become more affluent they will have to pay more of a premium.”

As for imposing a $5 copay for every Medicare home care visit after 100, “that just makes no sense from an economic standpoint,” said Beamer. “Collecting that $5 will cost a lot more than $5 - so I don’t understand what constructive purpose this would serve.”

“Quite the opposite,” said Davis, “it would be counterproductive, when we are trying to get the older elderly to stay in their homes as long as feasible, because that saves us money and saves their lives.”

When he talks with legislators, Beamer said, “I’ve always urged them not to chip away at benefits, but rather to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse.”

Said Coalition President Ross Boreson, “It seems to me we have to make the punishment fit the crime.” A federal license should be required of all Medicare and Medicaid operators. If convicted, licenses should be pulled permanently, period.

At present, said Boreson, operators are licensed by the state. “If somebody gets in trouble in Washington, he goes to Oregon, and starts again,” said Boreson. “As a society, we say, ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ But we are unwilling to punish the guilty. We penalize ourselves.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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