Friday, August 14, 2009

Whither "Death Panels"?

In 2008, Medicare expenses represented 13.3% of the Federal budget, and rising. Of those costs, 27% were spent on care in the final year of life. Because baby boomers are now hitting retirement age, more and more Americans become Medicare-eligible every day, even without any health care reform. It is widely agreed that, if current trends continue, Medicare will be bankrupt in 8 years, in 2017. Eight years!

With or without President Obama's proposed health care reform, this situation is obviously not sustainable. Medicare costs simply cannot be allowed to continue to increase as they have in the recent past. But when more people become eligible for Medicare coverage every day (because of decades-old demographics), cost control will be impossible without some form of rationing of care. Spending 27% of Medicare dollars on expensive treatments in the final year of life is an obvious target for that.

So how can the President say honestly that he wants health care reform which, in part, cuts costs, but yet he doesn't favor any plan that would "pull the plug on grandma." And how can some of those who oppose health care reform, like Sarah Palin, allude to the spectre of "Death Panels" as a rationale for their opposition, as if opposing reform now will somehow successfully avoid the inevitable rationing of health care in the future. That's either dishonest political pandering by both sides, or unforgiveable ignorance about the looming financial realities.

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