Medicare Coupons, Strokes, and Heart Attacks

Those who favor reforming the giant Medicare program must explain themselves carefully. But opponents of Medicare reform can just manufacture and spread around some fantastic fictions. Consider a couple of real screamers:   

You’ll buy your health insurance with coupons! Vice President Joseph Biden described the Medicare defined-contribution proposal championed by Representative Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), as “Vouchercare.” Now, vouchers are forms, certificates, or coupons redeemable at cash value for the purchase of a good or service. You can’t have a voucher program without vouchers. Right? And vouchers are scary. So, opponents of reform bet that their success in scary “messaging” is dependent upon leaving millions of frightened Baby Boomers with the impression that they will be left alone with a little piece of paper to negotiate with big bad insurance companies. On September 5, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention and millions of television viewers, Cristina Saralegui, a television host, said that Governor Romney would turn Medicare from a “guarantee” into a “book of coupons.” Brian Francisco, writing for the September 17, 2012, edition of The Journal Gazette, reports that Indiana congressman Joseph Donnelly won’t stand for giving hapless Baby Boomers “coupons” to buy private health plans. In that nightmarish future, according to Donnelly, the government would say, “Here’s a coupon — hope your coupon works.In fact, there is no Medicare reform proposal, including Ryan’s, that would give future seniors coupons to buy their health insurance. Ryan’s defined-contribution system, for example, is modeled on the financing of Medicare Part D. In trying to sell the liberals’ Medicare “coupon” gimmick, Donnelly is peddling pure nonsense.

You’ll get a stroke choosing a health plan! Sylvia Lang, writing for the September 11, 2012, edition of Redding.Com, worries that in 2023, people younger than 55 years of age will be “sold” to the “profit lusting” insurance wolves. She says that Ryan’s Medicare proposal would operate like an unreformed individual insurance market, where persons can be rejected for coverage because of preexisting conditions or charged exorbitant premiums based on their health status. Except — it won’t. In all Medicare reform plans, including the Ryan plan, all health plans would be governed by Medicare’s traditional insurance rules, meaning that plans must offer you coverage and can’t reject you or drop you if you are sick. Likewise, health plans would get additional funding to cover the costs of older and sicker enrollees. But why let plain facts get in the way of a good, old-fashioned demagogic rant? Lang writes, “God help anyone in their 70s, 80s or 90s who has to deal with private insurers. Will Ryan take responsibility for the strokes and cardiac arrests that ensue?”

Well, millions of seniors must be recovering from the strokes and heart attacks caused by the life-threatening stress of enrolling in the plans they like. In fact, 90 percent of Medicare patients — including those in their 70s, 80s, and 90s — already are enrolled in a variety of private plans for their drug coverage. There are over 1,100 drug plans offered in 34 regions around the country. Even more shocking, roughly 27 percent of all seniors are enrolled in integrated private plans through Medicare Advantage. In Medicare Advantage plans, seniors routinely enjoy richer medical benefits, including care coordination and disease management, as well as protection from catastrophic out-of-pocket costs; benefits superior to traditional Medicare. Enrollees in private plans, including the poor and the disabled, report high rates of satisfaction, and recent research confirms that the quality of care for Medicare Advantage enrollees is superior to care received by enrollees in traditional Medicare. But, too bad, Ms. Lang wants to “get rid” of those plans. Ms Lang not only wants to take away seniors’ right to keep Medicare Advantage plans they have today, but she wants to stop seniors from choosing better private plans tomorrow. Notwithstanding the president’s promise to all the “little people” who want to keep their health plans, Ms. Lang knows what’s best for them.

The Medicare misinformation machine is spinning overtime. As President Ronald Reagan once said, “Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.”  

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