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The Medicare Commission Says It Wants Your Input...But Does it, Really?

October 13, 1998

The National Medicare Commission deserves your attention. Created by Congress in 1997, the Commission is going to reform the health insurance program that will cover you at age 65. Chaired by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) and Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), the Commission is expected to release final recommendations to Congress in the spring of 1999.

How the Commission Affects You

There are several reasons why you should watch this Commission carefully. First, on reaching age 65 you will be forced to join Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital care, if you want to recoup the Social Security contributions you've been compelled to make all your working life. Therefore, decisions made about Medicare today, such as coverage and co-payment amounts, are going to affect your health-insurance plan tomorrow.

Your Money, Their Interests

Second, Medicare is a highly politicized program, and individual Americans rarely have a say in important decisions about it. Has anyone ever asked you what types of services should be covered under the $200 billion-a-year program? Did anyone ever ask you whether we should use scarce Medicare dollars to pay for the training doctors instead of, say, covering prescription drugs? Probably not. That's because Medicare decisions are usually made by large lobbying groups that have vested financial and political interests in the program.

False Democratic Process?

Third, the Commission is pulling the wool over our eyes. It claims it wants suggestions from the public, but it's not allowing adequate time for citizens to respond. Consider this: On August 13, the Commission released a notice headlined, "Call For Solutions: The National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare Wants Your Ideas." It went on to say the 17-member Commission "is calling on all professional and volunteer organizations and citizens to submit their ideas and plans about how Medicare can be improved for future generations. The Commission will invite organizations and individuals to share their ideas in brief oral testimony at the Commission's September 8 meeting in Washington, D.C."

Sound democratic? Hardly, especially when you consider that the Commission requested feedback by August 24-only seven working days after notice was given! Not much time for Americans to learn about the Commission's call for solutions and to prepare their suggestions.

Why the short period? You'll have to get that answer from the Medicare Commission.

You can contact the Medicare Commission by calling (202) 252-3380, writing c/o The National Medicare Commission, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20540-1998; or e-mailing solutions@medicare.commission.gov. You can learn more about the Commission by visiting its website at http://medicare.commission.gov.