Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) 2012 budget plan is selling out the next generation of seniors. His proposal would cap what each state is allocated to spend on Medicare and asks our elderly to figure out how to pay for their treatment with private insurance companies and a voucher with ever-shrinking value.
We can reduce the amount of money we need to spend on healthcare for seniors, and for everyone else, but penalizing our aging adults and raiding Medicare is not the way to do it. The fiscally responsible approach must include policies that keep people healthier now, in order to reduce the demand for medical care throughout their lives.
That approach is prevention.
The Ryan plan doesn't focus on any of the drivers of health costs, and it doesn't make anyone less sick. Its magical thinking simply reduces the flow of money available for treatment and care, while failing to address the healthcare costs that will get passed along to families and businesses. This is detrimental to our nation and the deficit. If, instead, we reduce the number of people injured and ill in the first place, we won't just save money. We will save lives.
Ryan and his friends are laser-focused on cutting over a trillion dollars, but their myopic view prevents them from seeing the innovative and responsible way to get there—not by making your grandma search for a health insurer on the open market, or by having your dad cover close to 70 percent of his own medical costs by 2030, both real scenarios under the Ryan plan.
Older adults, like the entire population, need multiple interventions to protect their health and save money. Eliminating medical mistakes, better utilization of health information technologies, and reducing costs and increasing efficiencies of care are all important elements—and prevention is crucial.
California is facing a $59 billion obligation for state retiree health costs. State Controller John Chiang's response? We must make "prevention and chronic disease management a priority to reduce the demand for healthcare." Chiang said, "If we can reduce the assumed rate of healthcare inflation by 1 percent, that could cut our unfunded liability by $7.4 billion."
Our nation can achieve that same 1 percent reduction—and save just under a trillion dollars over ten years—not by leaving our elderly sick and untreated, but by making them healthier, stronger and more independent.
Falls, one of the leading causes of injuries to seniors, cost our country more than $19 billion a year in direct medical costs and lead to a cascade of debilitating and avoidable medical complications. Similarly, unhealthy eating cost our country $147 billion in medical bills in 2008, double what it was a decade ago. Much of that was financed by Medicare and Medicaid.
We need simple changes like curb cuts, increased crosswalk safety, access to fresh fruits and vegetables for our parents and grandparents, and opportunities for them to get out and be physically active—safely and easily. These strategies show a 5-to-1 return on investment—a better value, and a better outcome, than anything the Ryan plan has to offer.
Ryan's plan wouldn't start for another 10-plus years, when today's 54-year-olds turn 65. During that time, a prevention focus would save money for seniors, start to lower the costs of those now aged 55-65, and provide a 10-year down payment on prevention for the younger generation.
Seniors prefer the current Medicare system by a 2-to-1 margin— 62 percent vs. 30 percent—when compared to Ryan's plan, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation's April Health Tracking Poll released this week. They know what we know: saving money can't come at the expense of the frailest members of our society.
We can take on Medicare as a means to address the budget deficit—but we have to do it effectively and compassionately. The right approach is to invest now in prevention.