Looking to Medicare as a model for health care coverage? Improve Medicare first.
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In a recent editorial, the New York Times reviewed current proposals to improve health care coverage as efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are stalled – at least for now. As noted in the editorial, “[t]he Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare, for all its waste of time and energy, has at least gotten people to talk seriously about proposals to improve the health care system.”

When looking to expand access to health care coverage, it’s natural to look to Medicare, the country’s well-tested, flagship health insurance program. Medicare is not only more cost-effective than private insurance, it’s also beloved by beneficiaries and their families. Thus, proposals presented by some would aggregate our current, multi-pronged coverage system into a single-payer model, which some call “Medicare-for-All.” Other proposals would allow people under age 65 to buy-into Medicare.

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Considering several of these proposals, a recent article in the New Republic asked: “[i]f the plan is to transition to something like Medicare-for-All, shouldn’t the strategy begin with making Medicare great?”

Yes! We agree, before moving more people into Medicare, it needs to be improved and simplified. With all of its virtues, Medicare also has flaws. There are still significant gaps in coverage – vision, hearing and routine dental, not to mention long-term care. In traditional Medicare, there is no cap on out-of-pocket expenses and no prescription drug benefit. Assistance for low-income individuals is limited. And, all too often, payment and quality measures lead many providers to prematurely terminate, or avoid providing medically necessary care entirely, for people with longer-term, chronic and debilitating conditions.

Traditional Medicare must include the same benefits and the same limits on cost-sharing as private Medicare Advantage. People who choose traditional Medicare ought to have the same “one-stop-shopping” opportunities as those in private Medicare Advantage, including to obtain prescription drug coverage. If supplemental, Medigap insurance continues to be necessary to help with cost-sharing, it should be available and affordable for all people with Medicare. 

As health policy discussions (thankfully) turn towards expanding, rather than contracting, health coverage, the Center for Medicare Advocacy will work to improve Medicare for all those it currently serves, and may serve in the future. This is a critical first step before adopting Medicare as a basis for coverage health coverage expansion.

Judith Stein is Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.