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Elder Care

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Medicare

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by Britney Wiggins, BSW Candidate

One of the most important steps when enforcing any type of intervention, especially in social work practice, is to examine how effective the program is in accomplishing its goals.  Federal legislation, particularly social welfare programs, must also be examined in terms of strengths and weaknesses so that the policy can be modified to better accommodate the beneficiaries that are often heavily dependent on these programs.  A program’s weaknesses can also result in its own demise if left untreated.  Exploring how an intervention can be improved is critical if any program is going to survive in the American political system.  Given our current political atmosphere and the focus on budget cuts, it is imperative that Medicare determine what areas it can improve on.

Medicare-Policy-Making-198x198Arguably one of Medicare’s greatest successes is in the overall support and approval it receives from its beneficiaries.1 Medicare has changed the way older adults approach retirement.  The financial support made available for medical costs allows older adults to use their monetary resources for other necessities.  Another reason that Medicare is heavily favored among eligible older adults is because of the portability of the program.  Regardless of where a beneficiary resides, their eligibility and benefits remain the same because the program is federally regulated.  The benefits, in fact, are responsible for much of Medicare’s glory.  It was originally designed to provide affordable healthcare to seniors and it has succeeded in that effort.  Despite the rising cost of Medicare throughout the years, the increase in the cost of private insurance has continued to ensure that Medicare is the better deal.2 With Medicare acting as a healthcare safety net, it is no surprise that Medicare continues to be one of America’s more popular social welfare policies.

Medicare’s popularity does not negate the fact that there are problems present.  While the program does help cover many healthcare costs, it also has relatively high deductibles, no limit on out-of-pocket spending, and a coverage gap – the “donut hole” – in the prescription drug plan that will exist until 2020.3 Medicare also fails to cover long-term care costs.4 While these issues do represent some of the weaknesses currently present in the program, they are not the focus of recent political talks.  Congress is far more concerned with addressing growing concern over how Medicare will continue to be funded in light of the federal deficit.

It has become almost impossible to talk about Medicare without also mentioning the Baby Boomers.  It is estimated that there are over 70 million Baby Boomers – individuals born between the years 1946 to 1964 – expected to enter into the Medicare system throughout the next decade.5 As the number of beneficiaries grows at an unprecedented rate, there is a reasonable fear that funds from taxpayers will not be able to keep up with the growing demand.  The national government will be forced to pick up the slack during a time when the country is already facing a trillion dollar deficit.  Politicians are racing to find a balance between maintaining a popular welfare program and reducing the national debt.  While Medicare is not in danger of being completely demolished, there are concerns over how changes to the policy will impact consumers and taxpayers.

The issue over Medicare funding is made more complicated by disagreements between the two main political ideologies over how the deficit should be corrected.  Republicans tend to favor cutting government spending, which could result in less federal monetary support for Medicare.  Democrats, on the other hand, favor an increase in taxes.  This alternative places a heavier burden on the taxpayer during an economic period that still finds many people recovering from the recent economic downfall.  Neither solution offers a comprehensive solution.  Rather, the two groups will have to reach a compromise if Medicare is going to continue providing cheaper insurance options for the growing elderly population.

14Wessel, D. (2013, January 24). Whose budget fix is more popular?. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

2Dugan, J. (13, June 2011). Private insurance vs. Medicare: truth in numbers. Retrieved from

3The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Kaiser Foundation, Medicare Policy. (2012). Medicare at a glance. Retrieved from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation website:

4Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (3, August 2012). Long-term care: what is long-term care?. Retrieved from

5 Haaga, J. (2002, December). Just how many baby boomers are there?. Retrieved from

Britney Wiggins is a student at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, and she is working toward a degree in Social Work with a focus on aging and older adults.

          
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