The media has focused a lot of attention on Mitt Romney’s proposed Medicare reforms. I am an undecided voter who is still relatively young. As such, I am interested in understanding how Romney’s suggested changes to Medicare might affect me. I analyzed the information located on the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign website in an effort to learn more about his plan. After reviewing the website, I worry that Romney’s proposal to create a Medicare voucher system will increase the nation’s health care costs. It might also have a negative impact on the quality of patient care in the United States. I hesitate to vote for Romney in November in part because I worry that his plan to reform Medicare might harm the nation’s health care system.
Romney’s Plan to Reform Medicare
On his website, Romney says that he will work with Congress to convert Medicare into a voucher system. People who are under a certain age when the law is passed will be included in this system once they retire. The government will provide the same amount of money to each retiree to purchase a Medicare policy (the retiree will pay the difference in cost). Ideally, the individual will have a large number of plans to choose from. Private insurers will sponsor all but one of these policies.
The Plan’s Potential Impact on Health Care Costs
Romney’s website claims that the competition among insurance companies for Medicare subscribers will help lower health care costs. I think that a Medicare voucher system will have the opposite effect. According to Health Affairs, Medicare can use its large subscriber base to its benefit in forcing providers to cut costs. Hospitals and physicians have to accept Medicare’s contractual payment schemes or risk losing a large number of their patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has begun to take advantage of this fact to force providers to become more efficient, thereby saving Americans billions of dollars in health care expenses (over the long run). If the federal government divvies up Medicare subscribers among a number of insurance companies, it might lose this advantage.
The Plan’s Potential Impact on Patient Care
Romney’s Medicare proposal might have a negative impact on quality of care. Currently, CMS can leverage its large Medicare subscriber base to force health care providers to improve patient care. For instance, CMS believes that there is a correlation between a hospital’s readmission rates and patient outcomes. The agency is using this information to attempt to improve quality of care by penalizing hospitals that have excessive readmission rates (among their Medicare populations). CMS has also begun to prod hospitals and physicians to collect patient safety data and to provide it to the agency. The federal government might be hard pressed to continue these quality improvement initiatives if its Medicare subscriber base is significantly reduced.
I like some of Romney’s ideas; however, I do not agree with his views on Medicare reform. My disagreement with Romney on this issue will play a part in determining how I vote in November.
The author is a freelance writer. He has worked in the health care industry for many years and has interned with a health policy think tank. He has a M.S. in Health Systems Administration from Georgetown University.