Larry Letters

Medicare, Medicaid: The Cost of Compassion

by Published On: Jul 12, 2011

As important as the battle about the budget is to our country, there are approaches being considered to expense reductions to Medicare and Medicaid that are counter-productive. Yet there are economies to be found in both, if we can get beyond partisanship.

The 6,000 members of LeadingAge, members of Congress, and the Obama administration should advocate for the same things to meet the needs of vulnerable people:

  • Seniors.
  • Children.
  • People with disabilities.
  • Caregivers.

At some time in our lives, most of us Americans—regardless of profession, status, or background—will face these personal and costly circumstances.

Whether the journey begins with a broken hip, stroke or spinal cord injury, a child born with impairments, or the knowledge that a parent can’t live alone anymore, Medicare most likely will provide a means to help pay acute and some long-term costs, as it should, and Medicaid is used as a safety net for all of us with limited means to receive long term services and supports. We all pay taxes throughout our working lives to provide this assurance.

A special word about Medicaid

But, ask a family member or a friend who has needed nursing home care for years if he or she has relied on Medicaid. Ask someone in a lower-paying job or someone who is out of work if their family could get by without Medicaid.

Ask any administrator of a children's hospital about the importance of Medicaid to families they serve. A visit to your local nursing home, as you well know, to meet residents, families and employees, will likely illustrate how Medicaid is essential as well as the impact of the proposed cuts.

Congress would benefit from putting a name and a face with the issue of Medicaid costs.

Few of us have the financial wherewithal to withstand long-term needs for care or services without help. A year's worth of nursing home care quickly drains the savings of a senior. Many Americans are only a few paychecks away from Medicaid eligibility.

Can Medicare and Medicaid be more economical?

Of course. There are opportunities to simultaneously improve quality and reduce costs through proven care transitions, management and coordination programs. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides opportunity for innovation in these areas. 

In the long run, the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act provision of the ACA holds great promise because it allows us to plan for ourselves. If CLASS is judged feasible, the more people who sign up, the greater the Medicaid savings.

Let's give CLASS a chance to work.

Ask not-for-profit providers in your community what arbitrary, across-the-board cuts or caps mean to real people who need care and to employees whose jobs are at risk. You can check out what LeadingAge members are saying about the impact of the current proposals.

Let's also remember that in America, compassion has its costs, which we all must share because we all are likely to benefit from it. It is hard to see balancing the budget without new revenue. Cuts alone are irresponsible. Just ask people who have needed these essential programs.

In time of need, most of us won't begrudge a penny of the tax dollars we paid to help others—and ourselves.


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