Lack of solution for rising Medicare costs stumps discussion panel

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Moderator Evan Smith and panelists Garnet Coleman, Anne Dunkelberg, John C. Goodman and Leo Linbeck III participated in the Texas Tribune’s “A Conversation About the Future of Medicare” Monday afternoon. The panelists expressed their concern with the government’s level of Medicare control and discussed their thoughts on possible solutions to Medicare’s rising costs.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The rising cost of health care leaves experts without a solution to stunt the growing need for Medicare funding.

The LBJ School of Public Affairs partnered with the Texas Tribune and AARP to gather Medicare experts in “A Conversation About the Future of Medicare,” a panel designed to canvass the most sought-after solutions to rising Medicare costs.

A main problem called into question by the four panelists is the level of government controlling Medicare spending. One solution to costs is to push health care dollars down to local communities in Texas, said Leo Linbeck, president and chief executive of Aquinas Companies. Aquinas, a contracting and construction company based in Houston, funds entrepreneurial solutions to health care and education in Texas. Linbeck said because Texas is so big, health care initiatives will not be successful if they are organized the same as in small states.

“We’re trying to come up with one solution that fixes health care for everyone,” Linbeck said. “What we need is a lot of diverse solutions that vary by state.”

Anne Dunkelberg said a one-size-fits-all approach will never satisfy the health care needs of the whole country, but a federally organized Medicare plan does allow room for flexibility. Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonprofit institute that focuses on the needs of low- and moderate-income Texans, said states have options to fund Medicare differently because there are so many different health plans.

Another proposition to reduce spending is means testing, a method of eliminating high-income citizens from the Medicare recipient population. State representative Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said means testing is not a feasible solution because income levels are not relative to sickness. Coleman said eliminating Medicare benefit recipients by increasing the age of eligibility and ruling out high-income individuals will not save enough money to consider it worth pursuing.

John Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, said means testing is only helpful to an extent because life expectancies are higher for high-income earners, so lower-income seniors will inevitably bear the burden of Medicare costs. The center is a nonprofit think tank that emphasizes the free market.

“There are different ways of taking benefits away from people, but the bottom line is that seniors are getting less,” Goodman said.

Some of the shifts in spending include changes in the employee retirement system, panel attendee Mary Ragland said. Ragland, an Austin AARP community team leader, said her inclusion in the Medicare advantage plan forced her to choose between her own personal benefits and the health of the federal budget.

“Medicare costs are rising so fast. I’m getting better benefits, but it’s costing Medicare so much more,” Ragland said. “It makes me wonder why they would make a change like this when it feels so unnecessary.”

Printed on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 as: Medicare costs stump discussion panel