If you're a baby boomer, you're expecting Medicare to pay for that knee replacement or cataract operation you'll need in 10 or 20 years. Don't count on it. Health care reform is taking a dangerous turn. Democrats, energized by the failure to repeal Obamacare, are again pushing a government takeover of health care they call "Medicare for all." Democrats took the first step last week, announcing a Senate bill to expand Medicare for people age 55 and up. Boomers beware. These schemes will push people 65 and older to the back of the line for health care.
It's already happening in the U.K., where government-run health care is targeting boomers for deadly rationing. Faced with a budget crisis, Britain's National Health Service is limiting the procedures seniors need most: hip and knee replacements, cataract operations, angioplasty and colonoscopies. It's a preview of what American boomers can expect under a Medicare-for-all system.
Once people over 65 have to compete with a younger population for health resources, they lose. Britain's boomers are told they have fewer years of life ahead to benefit from costly medical procedures.
New York Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are saying Congress should consider moving the nation to single payer health care, where the federal government pays all health bills and controls health resources. A majority of House Democrats have signed on to a Medicare-for-all bill, and Democratic National Committee deputy chairman Keith Ellison says single-payer is the "locomotive coming down the tracks."
These politicians are not leveling with seniors about the bruising impact of single-payer health care. In Britain, local health authorities pressed to meet government spending targets are delaying and skimping on care. There, patients at high risk of colon cancer are waiting as long as 13 weeks for a colonoscopy. Heart patients who could benefit from angioplasty have to settle for "watchful waiting."
Patients crippled with osteoarthritis are denied hip and knee replacements if too many people in their region have gotten them. "It is unacceptable for such a large number of patients to be waiting this long in pain and discomfort," says Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons. They might as well check into the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Newborn Charlie Gard's callous treatment by Britain's NHS got attention, but most of the suffering is at the other end of the age spectrum.
Likewise, seniors here will have to brace themselves for shortages if Congress expands Medicare to younger people. It's already tough for 65-and-overs to find a doctor willing to accept Medicare's stingy payments. Over a fifth of doctors are turning away new Medicare patients, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
Expanding Medicare will suddenly invite some 10 million more patients to compete for the same doctor appointments and surgery slots — a sudden 20 percent increase in demand.
A year ago, when Hillary Clinton proposed expanding Medicare to people in their 50s, hospital organizations howled in protest, warning that it would threaten seniors' access to care.
That's because Medicare pays only about 90 cents for every dollar of care, shortchanging hospitals and doctors. They take the payments, and then shift the unmet costs onto patients with private insurance. But the more Medicare is expanded, the harder the cost shifting will become. And the more doors will be slammed shut in seniors' faces.
Seniors bore the brunt under the Affordable Care Act. It robbed over $700 billion from Medicare over a decade to fund entitlements for younger people. Cuts to Medicare paid for half of Obamacare's coverage expansion. Obamacare also set up the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an unelected panel with rationing powers alarmingly similar to Britain's NHS.
Medicare is projected to run out of money for hospital bills in 2029. Congress should be shoring it up, not undermining it. Politicians need to stop reforming health care on the backs of seniors.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a former lieutenant governor of New York State. Contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.