CHARLESTON — Medicare is now 49 years old, and there are some signs that fears about the program’s future may be easing.
The influx of baby boomers reaching retirement age and increasing medical costs had lawmakers looking for options to prevent the program from going bankrupt. But Sam Burnett, a volunteer for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said plans such as the House-backed Ryan budget would cut benefits and shift cost burdens to beneficiaries, rather than reduce the cost of care.
“What they’re trying to do is increase the age of eligibility, which means if they increase it from 65 to 67 for Medicare, that’s two years that those people will have lost their benefits,” he said. “Our task is to make sure they understand that legislation will have an impact on a great many of our seniors.”
The 2014 Medicare and Social Security Trustees report showed the growth of health-care costs has slowed, in part through health-care reform. It said Medicare’s hospital trust fund will pay full benefits until 2030, four years later than last year’s report.
Medicare is adding an estimated 10,000 members a day. Last year, it covered more than 52 million people nationwide. Burnett called it the lifeblood - not only for older people, but also their children and spouses. He talked about how it helped a woman with whom he worked who was injured in a truck accident.
“Without Medicare, her children would not have had Medicare services that they needed,” he said. “She would not have had the medicine, the surgery, the follow-up. So basically, without that, her three children would have suffered. She would have suffered.”
According to Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, more than one in five West Virginians depends on the program.
“We have one of the highest shares of people in the country that are on Medicare,” he said. “Without it, there is no doubt that more people would be living in poverty, they’d have a shortened lifespan and it’d reduce their quality of life.”
The trustees’ report is online at cms.hhs.gov.