KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Bipartisan Task Force Recommends Medicare And Medicaid Overhaul

CQ Health Beat: "Congress must overhaul Medicare and Medicaid and end tax-free health coverage to help bring the federal debt to manageable levels, a bipartisan task force said Wednesday." The task force "warned that without radical budget surgery, federal revenues by 2025 'will be completely consumed by the combination of interest payments, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.'" The report was commissioned by the Bipartisan Policy Center (Reichard, 11/17).

Kaiser Health News: "Backers of the latest plan said they hoped it would spur a reluctant public and elected leaders to grapple with painful choices needed to get the country's spending under control. But others warned the political prospects of the plan seemed doubtful - particularly for some of the more far-reaching ideas, such as limiting the amount the government would spend on Medicare beneficiaries. Right now, premiums account for 25 percent of the cost of Part B, or the physician component of the program, with the government paying the balance. The task force would increase beneficiaries' share to 35 percent" (Galewitz/Rau, 11/17).

The Fiscal Times: "Most seniors will opt for private insurance, the authors predicted, since it will become substantially cheaper than traditional fee-for-service medicine because of the other major element in their proposal – the total elimination of the tax exclusion for employer-provided insurance. The working age population will become more cost conscious when buying health care services and insurance with after-tax dollars and thus lower overall costs, the plan assumed." The bipartisan plan "mirrors Republican proposals for overhauling Medicare" (Goozner. 11/18).

The New York Times: The proposal, as well as the recent one outlined by presidential deficit commission members Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, suggest why "President Obama and Congressional Republicans separately promised to act" on the national debt "but offered few specifics" during campaign season. "Each [plan] proposes substantial cuts to spending across the board and an end to popular tax breaks for individuals and corporations after 2012. Those are not the kind of promises that candidates generally make. … While neither plan is likely to become law, a number of groups are mobilizing to oppose them - conservatives against higher taxes, and liberals against changes to Social Security and Medicare" (Calmes, 11/17).

Meanwhile, the presidential deficit commission on Wednesday "debated a dramatic plan to gradually turn Medicare from a system in which the government pays most beneficiaries' medical bills into a program in which seniors would purchase health insurance with government-issued vouchers," The Associated Press reports. "The plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Democratic economist Alice Rivlin of the panel would seem to face steep odds with most other panel Democrats. ... [the plan] would not change the Medicare programs for current enrollees or for those 55 and older. The new system would start in 2021. The eligibility age for Medicare would gradually increase from 65 to 67" (Taylor, 11/17).

The Wall Street Journal: "A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Americans skeptical of deficit-cutting proposals laid out by the chairmen of a commission appointed by the White House. In the survey, … Roughly 70% were uncomfortable with making cuts to programs such as Medicare, Social Security and defense in order to reduce the deficit, with 27% saying they were comfortable" (Wallsten, 11/18).

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