Seniors and Health Care Reform

seniors-and-health-care-reformAs national health care reform is currently one of the most hotly debated issues among Americans, it’s important to understand how proposed changes would impact seniors, now and in the future. The Department of Health and Human Services has identified several funding highlights that address how the $76.8 billion budget will support its mission to protect the health of all Americans. In particular, the following highlights are relevant to seniors and health care:

1. Accelerates the adoption of health information technology and utilization of electronic health records.

As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, $19 billion is currently set aside for health information technology, which will ensure that efficiencies are made in maintaining health records and protecting privacy. In practical terms, the health care providers of seniors have amassed extensive health records and the process of transferring such documents to specialists is currently cumbersome and time-consuming. Reviewing medical history through computerized health records will facilitate the provision of high-quality health care with timeliness and reduced medical errors.

2.Expands research comparing the effectiveness of medical treatments to give patients and physicians better information on what works best.

The treatment of chronic diseases that are commonly associated with advanced age, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, remain a significant priority for research in our country. With additional funding for medical research, progress can be made in effectively improving quality of life among those suffering age-related diseases and potentially preventing them in the future. At the same time, physicians treating seniors with multiple diagnoses will likely be more well-informed with regard to potentially negative medication interactions.

3. Strengthens the Medicare program by encouraging high quality and efficient care, and improving program integrity.

With regard to seniors and health care, they have expressed concern about the effect of health care reform on access to Medicare and, specifically, the Medicare Advantage program. This program allows seniors to buy Medicare coverage through private insurance plans, which offer lower premiums than traditional Medicare plans. Critics question the sustainability of a program that ultimately charges taxpayers 14% more per patient than regular Medicare. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, eliminating the program would save $150 billion over 10 years. This savings is anticipated to result from 1) reducing Medicare payments to private insurers, 2) improving Medicare and Medicaid payment accuracy, 3) improving care after hospitalizations and reducing readmission rates, and 4) expanding the Hospital Quality Improvement Plan. If successful, an investment in savings now will ultimately extend the viability of Medicare until 2024.

Seniors and Health Care Reform: According to a Gallup poll conducted in late July of 2009, seniors represented the least optimistic demographic with regard to the benefits of health care reform. In fact, only 20% of Americans 65 years and older say health care reform would improve their own medical care. Ironically perhaps, three quarters of seniors currently receive health care through government-sponsored plans including Medicare and Medicaid. For seniors, health care reform in the future may suggest the possibility of changing what is currently a good thing.

Written by gerontologist Sara Shelton


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