Sometimes I Feel Like a Piece of Bologna

Thursday, October 05, 2006

With an Eye Toward Our Future

As I’ve been consumed this week dealing with the donut hole (and not finding good solutions yet), today there’s news for those of us who are baby boomers. The experience with our parents has probably already taught us that we can’t depend on Medicare and Social Security to cover everything, even though my mom feels that they should. But soon, these concerns will apply to us as well.

According to a story from the Wichita Eagle, about the time that three million baby boomers become eligible for Medicare benefits next year, the federal insurance program is proposing to cut payments to physicians by 5.1 percent. This marks another round of proposed decreases in reimbursement rates to doctors, mandated by what physicians call a perpetually flawed formula and once again threatening access to care as fewer doctors say they can afford to see patients with Medicare.

When I worked in health care years ago, both Medicare and Medicaid were blamed for the spiraling costs of health care. Doctors were already limiting their practices to a certain percentage of Medicare patients, and even fewer Medicaid patients. In California, it’s increasingly difficult find doctors who will treat Medicaid patients. Is it likely that by the time we get there, doctors will accept fewer Medicare patients as well? And is it likely that our parents will find it more difficult to find care?

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for an urgent overhaul of Social Security and Medicare, warning that failure to do so soon could lead to dire economic consequences as the first wave of baby boomers—76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964—begin taking early retirement in 2008.

Federal lawmakers are unlikely to make the decisions that will solve the problems. As the population ages, fewer workers will be funding our benefits. So it’s important that we begin to look ahead, plan ahead, and be prepared to take responsibility for our own needs. If we depend on the government, we may be sadly disappointed. The biggest problem with the donut hole is that seniors expected the government to take over their prescription drug needs. As the plan is failing, our parents feel betrayed. Let’s make sure we don’t have the same experience.

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