As the number of baby boomers head into their retirement years, Medicare will be under pressure to continue providing benefits while being financially stable.
A panel discussion at the National Association of Health Underwriters 2020 Capitol Conference looked at Medicare and its long-term stability.
Two issues stand out in looking at the future of Medicare, former Rep. Allyson Schwartz said. She is president and CEO of Better Medicare Alliance.
One issue is the increasing number of boomers who hit the age of 65 each year. The other is how Medicare can continue to provide benefits and access to care while maintaining costs.
The Medicare program could do more to keep its beneficiaries healthy and keep them from using more costly forms of care.
"We want to get people the right care at the right time at the right cost," she said.
John Rother, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, said that Medicare's revenues could be increased by lawmakers looking at two scenarios.
The first would be raising the minimum wage so that workers would be contributing more money into the program. The other would be permitting more immigrants to enter the US for work.
Lowering the age for Medicare eligibility would help the program by adding more people to the risk pool, Rother said. Such a move would take more workers out of their employers' risk pool and would be helpful to those in their early 60s who want to retire but are not yet eligible for Medicare but can't afford health insurance premiums on their own.
Here To Stay
The panel also looked at the rise on nonmedical benefits in Medicare Advantage plans. These benefits vary by policy but can cover everything from gym memberships to transportation to the doctor.
These benefits address the social factors that can influence an older person's health, panelists said.
For example, if someone is unable to pay the electric bill, they are unable to keep their insulin refrigerated, said Debbie Witchey, executive vice president of the Healthcare Leadership Council.
Someone who is unable to go to the store or cook, or who lives far from a drugstore will be more likely to end up in the emergency room, she added. Home modifications can keep someone out of a nursing home.
Despite concerns that the Medicare Trust Fund could run out of money in the future, the panelists were optimistic about the future of the program.
"Medicare is around to stay," Schwartz said.
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.