The future of Medicare is one of several key issues in the upcoming presidential election this year, but it’s also one of the least discussed among the candidates. Despite ongoing debate over the American health care system in general, little has been said regarding Medicare. About 55 million people received Medicare benefits in 2015, a number that will climb as an aging Baby Boomer generation retires over the next decade. The federal entitlement program is a hotly contested political topic among Republicans and Democrats, but few politicians have opted to tackle Medicare head-on.
In an article for Vox.com, Ron Wyden, senior senator from Oregon, identifies chronic care as the top issue facing Medicare in the future. As it stands, Medicare can be extremely complicated to navigate for healthy beneficiaries. Those with chronic conditions like heart disease or dementia face even tougher challenges in coordinating their care. Medicare charges a premium for care coordination, a feature that Wyden argues should be complimentary.
Since Medicare’s inception in 1965, seniors have struggled to understand the so-called promise of reliable health care in old age. Today’s recipients have even bigger health crises to face, and the terms of Medicare’s offerings aren’t any clearer 50 years later. According to Wyden, 10,000 Americans enroll in Medicare every day. There should be a duty of care to these new enrollees as well as current beneficiaries.
Updating Medicare to meet the challenges of the 21st century would go a long way toward improving its effectiveness. Wyden suggests features such as guaranteed care coordination, covered at-home physician visits, greater flexibility in Medicare Advantage programs, and telemedicine services for those who need immediate access to medical care. These programs would not only allow more seniors to manage their chronic health problems, but they’d also reduce Medicare spending in the long run.
In February 2016, Senior Voice Alaska reported on the presidential candidates’ stances on Medicare at the time, noting that none of the major players had offered much in the way of concrete details. Likely Republican nominee Donald Trump favors weeding out fraud in federal assistance programs, but he has yet to propose any changes or reforms to the existing system. Unlike his former rivals, Trump does not support getting rid of Medicare altogether.
Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have different ideas about the future of health care in general. Clinton supports increased funding for Alzheimer’s disease research – to the tune of $2 billion a year, which she says will come from a modified tax code. Sanders wants to combine Medicare, Medicaid and the current health care system into one program that the federal government would oversee. In other words, he supports a single-payer system similar to Canada’s health care program.
How the top three contenders handle Medicare could play a significant role in the election outcome for 2016. Seniors have historically been reliable when it comes to voting, and more seniors vote than any other age demographic. Since the 1980s, seniors over the age of 60 have accounted for more than half of voter turnout according to ElectProject.org. With so much as stake for Medicare, the current presidential candidates will need to clarify their positions on how they plan to sustain or reform the existing system.