My last post, “Why It Is So Difficult to Fix Our Debt Problem” made the case (I hope!) that there is really only one practical way to fix our debt problem. It is to control the cost of healthcare spending in the U.S. and especially the cost of entitlement healthcare spending such as for the programs Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, Medicare by itself is the biggest part of this problem.
- In 2018 there were 60 million Medicare recipients and this number is projected to reach 81 million by 2030, just ten years away (see chart):
- Medicare spending, 4.2% of GDP in 2020, is projected to reach 7.1% of GDP by 2040. Again, as pointed out in the previous post, Medicare is the fastest growing single government program in our entire country.
This means that strong action needs to be taken to control the rise of Medicare costs as well as other public healthcare programs such as Medicaid. For example:
- Let Medicare negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. This is currently banned under the ACA and so will require congressional action. It would have the effect of lowering drug prices for all Americans.
- Require Medicare recipients to pay more than the 59% of the cost of their healthcare benefits which they now pay. This could be done on a means-adjusted basis so that the affluent, at least, would pay the full cost of their own healthcare and with even middle-class recipients paying more, say 50% of parts B and D, than they pay at present.
- Put Medicaid on a block-grant financial basis so that the federal government pays only a fixed amount to each state (increasing with inflation) rather than a fixed percentage of the expenses of each state. This will not only control the federal cost but also give the states a greater incentive to control their own Medicaid expenses.
- (blunderbuss last resort) Medicare prices for all. Note that I did not say “Medicare for All” as has been proposed by several Democratic presidential candidates. Medicare has a reasonable price control system which could be used for all of U.S. healthcare. All of the world’s other advanced economies have both universal healthcare coverage and price controls of some sort for all medical expenses.
- The CEO, Michael Hansen, of the Columbus (NE) Community Hospital has figured out to prosper financially with Medicare and Medicaid payment rates for most of his patients. This is reported (pages 66 – 69) in the book “The Price We Pay” by Marty Makary, MD
Conclusion. The U.S. national debt is a very serious problem which must be addressed by our national representatives in the very near future. Controlling the cost of the healthcare entitlement programs, Medicare and Medicaid is by far the best way to make significant progress on this huge problem.