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What Joe Lieberman got wrong on Medicare

All of the Medicare reform proposals that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) listed in his June 10 Washington Forum piece, “Medicare in 2031?,” including those that “simplify” coverage, save the government money by shifting greater costs onto people with Medicare.

The Medicare population is often mischaracterized as wealthy. But half of the current Medicare population has household incomes below $22,000, and the next generation of Medicare beneficiaries will not fare much better. The Medicare population already spends 15 percent of its income on health care — 10 percent more than the non-Medicare population. Increasing what people pay for Medicare will mean that many with Medicare will be unable to afford the care they require.

Better solutions include requiring the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, cutting all overpayments to private health plans, allowing generally healthier people between 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare, and fully implementing the Affordable Care Act, which achieves Medicare savings without harming beneficiaries. These solutions get at the root cause of rising Medicare spending, which is the growth of costs in the health-care sector, and cut wasteful spending.

Joe Baker, New York

Judith Stein, Willimantic, Conn.

The writers are, respectively, president of the Medicare Rights Center and executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

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Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman has it backward. While most people would agree with the senator that the wealthy should pay more for health care — applying progressive principles to Medicare funding — he also wants to achieve Medicare solvency by raising the eligibility age to 67, in other words, by serving fewer people and shutting the door to many who would be unable to secure affordable health insurance in the private market.

But, as most experts agree, our problem is the soaring cost of medical care, as a whole, not Medicare, which is the most frugal part of our
non-system. And the only way to control medical costs is via a single-payer system that covers everyone, so the government has leverage to tamp down excessive costs and eliminate waste, including the wasteful costs devoted to private-insurance overhead.

Providing Medicare coverage for everyone, regardless of age, is the only way to provide quality health care to all Americans without bankrupting our country.

Mary von Euler, Bethesda

The writer is secretary of Americans for Democratic Action.

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