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Health Reform 101

with Lisa Zamosky

WebMD helps readers understand their health insurance and the new health care reform law. The Affordable Care Act is bringing sweeping changes to American health care. Lisa Zamosky is here to help you navigate the health care maze and understand how these changes affect you.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Americans are of Two Minds About Health Insurance

By Lisa Zamosky

Medicare Card

I really appreciate it when readers of this blog leave comments. It’s great for me to hear what’s on your mind, what you find interesting and helpful (or not!), and your thoughts often provoke some new ones for me.

Recently, a reader left two comments that I thought well illustrate Americans’ complicated views on health care. I want to share the comments with you and ask you to leave some more in response.

Here’s the background: I recently wrote a blog about a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that when it comes to the issues most likely to influence who they elect president this November, voters are more concerned about Medicare then they are about the health reform law.

In summary, the poll found:

  • 73% felt that both Medicare and the cost of health care would most influence their vote.
  • 69% said they wanted Medicare to essentially stay the way it is, with no major changes, such as turning it into a voucher program, as vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has suggested

Political Harmony/Acrimony

Perhaps one of the more interesting findings of the poll is that despite today’s polarized political environment in which Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on anything, they see eye-to-eye on Medicare:

  • Roughly 70% of voters from both parties said Medicare benefits should not be reduced, even if doing so would help to reduce the deficit.

But health reform? No love between the parties there. Republicans by and large hate the very idea of the law. Democrats are mostly in favor of it.

Here’s what another Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken after the Supreme Court ruling to uphold the law found:

  • 69% of Republicans say opponents of the law should continue trying to block it.
  • 82% of Democrats said opponents should stop their attempts to block the law and move on to other national problems.

So what gives? Why can Republicans and Democrats agree about Medicare – a program that provides near universal health insurance for the elderly – but totally disagree about health reform, a law that aims to provide near universal health insurance for the non-elderly?

Health for All

Now to the reader’s comments that led me to this post. Keep in mind, the following were written by the same person:

Comment #1 regarding Medicare:

I think they should leave Medicare as is, both Parts A & B. I have an insurance policy for Part B which also covers medications up to a certain amount. I am very happy with the way things are going and a voucher would only confuse matters and open the door for crooks to come in and take advantage.

Comment #2 regarding health reform:

I pray they repeal the [health reform] bill and burn it on the front steps of the Capital. We will all pay for it in the long run, Trust Me!!

The Cost Reality

Medicare consumes nearly 14% of the federal budget, or $486 billion annually. All the talk lately about how to rein in Medicare costs has to do with the fact that Medicare’s Part A trust fund, which mostly pays for hospital care, is expected to become insolvent – meaning it will be unable to pay for 100% of hospital insurance costs – by 2024.

If you’re to believe the polls, despite its cost, Americans – Republicans and Democrats alike – want Medicare to remain untouched.

What about the cost of the Affordable Care Act?

According to the Congressional Budget Office, despite extending insurance to millions of Americans, the law is expected to reduce the federal deficit by $210 billion between 2012 and 2021.

Share Your Views

Are you in the camp that feels policy makers should keep their hands off Medicare, but at the same time are opposed to health reform? If so, how do you draw a distinction between the two programs, both of which guarantee widespread health insurance coverage?

I’m inviting an open – respectful – discussion. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo: Ingram Publishing

Posted by: Lisa Zamosky at 1:00 am

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