Hey, Medicare, I’m counting on you

Hey, Medicare, I’m counting on you

I’ll be eligible for Medicare coverage in five years, and to my surprise, I can’t wait to get government health coverage because my current coverage is expensive.

I recently completed a consultancy assignment, which provided me with comprehensive health benefits. To maintain my health insurance policy through Cobra, I have to pay $750 per month.

I also need to cover the first $3,300 of costs before full coverage kicks in.

This means that if I go to the hospital with a bad flu – which I did for the first time in my life recently – I will receive a giant bill to pay my deductible.

My total healthcare costs for the year, more or less, would be $13,000, or almost $1,100 per month.

Given my current costs, Medicare coverage is a good deal.

Medicare became law in 1965 and is now offered in four parts to Americans over 65:

Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, palliative care, and some home health care. Most people don’t pay a premium for Part A because they’ve paid into the program for years as taxpayers.

Medicare Part B covers doctor’s visits, outpatient services, preventive care, and some medical equipment. The standard monthly premium for Part B in 2021 was $148.50, but higher income earners can pay more.

Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, is an alternative offered by private insurers to supplement A and B with additional benefits.

Medicare Part D helps with the cost of prescription drugs. Its average cost in 2021 was around $33 per month.

Medicare seems almost too good to be true, which brings us to its biggest challenge: How do you pay for it as America ages and millions more start collecting benefits?

Initially, there were many more people contributing to the fund than it used – five people contributing versus one person receiving benefits – but with baby boomers retiring in large numbers, this is not no longer the case.

When Medicare began in 1965, Americans 65 and older made up just 10% of the population. Today, Americans over 65 make up about 17% of the US population.

Here’s another worrying detail: Medicare payroll taxes only pay about 62% of the program’s more than $800 billion annual cost. The balance is paid from the United States General Cash Register – which is short by one and a half trillion every year.

The way things are going, the Medicare fund is on track to post a $1 trillion annual deficit in just 10 years.

The Biden administration mostly offers a typical non-solution to Medicare’s financial challenges: tax the rich.

But taxes alone will not solve this problem. Comprehensive reform is the only solution.

The solution requires a thoughtful bipartisan approach and will likely include hardship, such as cutting some benefits and extending the eligibility age from around 65 to around 67.

Will our politicians muster up the courage to take on this very real challenge — or will they chase cheap votes by telling older Americans that the other party is trying to take away their health care coverage?

I have my worries.

I’m in no rush to turn 65, but the one saving grace I hope turning 65 will bring is that Medicare will relieve me of the $1,100 a month I currently pay for basic health care.

Purcell, creator of infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, which features pet tips he learns from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at [email protected]

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