Under Lieberman’s bill, Medigap policies could cover only half of a senior’s out-of-pocket costs up to the $7500. In other words, they would have to pay $3750 right off the bat before any insurance would be allowed to kick in. And if they have an existing Medigap plan that does pay those costs, the government would slap them with an excise tax. One couple I know now pays $3720 for two Medigap policies that covers each of them and pays for everything. They would have to pay the tax, drop their policies, and each cough up the first $3750 to pay expenses, plus a premium for the new policy and a higher Medicare premium for Part B, which covers doctor services and hospital outpatient care. Lieberman’s plan would raise that, too.
Making people pay a lot more is precisely what Lieberman and other pols want. He cites studies showing that when people have to pay more for their care, they will use less of it, and claims his proposal will reduce the debt and “save more than $600 billion over 10 years.” In his press release he says: “We can only save Medicare if we change it. Our plan contains some strong medicine but that’s what it will take to keep Medicare alive.”
What will it take to keep seniors alive? That’s a good question for the press to explore. Half have annual incomes under $22,000, and the median income for older women on Social Security is only about $15,000. A recent RAND study, also missed by the press, found consumers with high-deductible insurance and lots of cost sharing did economize on going to the doctor even for preventive care covered by their policies.
“This has a perverse effect,” says Burns. “The older you are the more likely you’ll pay those high out-of-pocket expenses. They would hit women the hardest and shift more of them into Medicaid.” Given that states are having trouble paying for Medicaid and there’s talk of cutting the feds’ contribution through block grants, it’s fair to ask how will these women pay for their care. It’s also fair to ask how they will pay for it if proposed changes in Social Security’s cost-of-living formula now discussed as part of the deficit reduction package, become law. COLA changes are likely to result in smaller increases for many. Folks, this is really about the kitchen table connection.