U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., believes Medicare needs a few tweaks, but must remain to provide health care coverage to the tens of millions of Americans.
A panel largely made up of local medical experts agreed with her. “Medicare has been very successful in achieving its basic mission,” said Brit Pim, Vice President & General Manager of Government Programs for Express Scripts Inc.
“But as the country’s largest purchaser of health services, it can do more to improve quality, promote more coordinated care and control costs, both of its own costs and throughout the healthcare system,” he continued. “Because of its unique position, it can be an important testing ground for cost and quality innovations and policies have been oput in place to encourage such development.”
Pim was on the five-person panel that discussed the matter with McCaskill during Friday’s Medicare field hearing of the Senate Committee on Aging. The session was held at the Five-Star Senior Center in St. Louis. Others testifying included Sandra Van Trease, Group President of BJC HealthCare, the region’s largest hospital system.
The 90-minute hearing was a friendly one, with no critics among those testifying. Several emphasized that Medicare, despite its flaws, has become crucial to the lives of many Americans.
“Seniors understand that Medicare is vital to living in dignity,’’ said Ron Sergent, a representative of the Missouri chapter of AARP.
But the program is costly, and growing in size. Roughly 55 million Americans, most of them 65 or over, are covered by Medicare now. By 2030, largely because of retiring Baby Boomers, that number is expected to grow to well over 80 million.
Several experts called for easing of some Medicare regulations, and possible stiffening of others, in order to make the program more flexible and cost-efficient./
In an interview after the hearing, McCaskill took note of some of the suggestions. "I learned that Medicare has some growing pains that have occurred because we paid fees for services without being focused on the quality of care or coordination of care,” she said.
But the senator dismissed the latest Republican proposals to curb or dismantle Medicare, saying it’s too important to too many people.
"You heard today that half the seniors in this country that are on Medicaid have household incomes of less than $24,000 a year,” she said. “The notion that we're going to give a limited amount of vouchers to seniors and ask them to not only figure out how to afford all their healthcare on those vouchers, but to navigate a pretty complicated system, I think is unrealistic.”