Medicare was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, a long 20 years after it was proposed by Harry Truman. American workers (most of us) have been paying into this pot for decades. Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is worth over $140 billion. So, the sharks are circling. Please choose “original” Medicare and avoid the so-called “advantage” plans which can lure you with lower premiums but which are for profit, with “obligations” to their shareholders, not their subscribers. This is well documented. Medicare Advantage is only able to offer low premiums and out-of-pocket caps by delaying or denying care on the back end, and by discouraging the sickest patients from enrolling. Medicare Advantage allows seniors to choose their health plan, but it restricts the much more crucial choice of doctor and hospital by using narrow provider networks. Commercial health insurers will never be satisfied with even their current, outrageous profits.
It’s about to get worse. Starting in January, the REACH (Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health) program will allow many hospital networks to “manage” the care of seniors who have declined to participate in Medicare Advantage — without our knowledge! So long as we allow profit-seekers to control our health, they will deny us care, stick us with exorbitant costs, and keep the lion’s share for themselves. The only true solution to our country’s health care crisis is Medicare for All, but if we allow corporations to take over Medicare, we will never see this achieved. While Medicare Advantage is rife with problems caused primarily by the greed of insurance companies, patients at least have the choice between an Advantage plan or Traditional Medicare. REACH takes away that choice by “aligning” beneficiaries with REACH entities without their full knowledge or consent. The only way for patients to leave the program (for now) is by finding a new primary care doctor. In Alaska at this time only PeaceHealth Hospital in Ketchikan has “aligned” with REACH. It’s crucial that we end REACH, to restore choice to Medicare beneficiaries. This could be done by executive order, so please contact your federal representatives and urge them to stop the corporate greed around the money you have paid into this public pot.
To start, when signing up for Medicare, choose the traditional, not for profit, plan. Really do your homework before being tempted by “advantage.” Further, when voting legislative leaders into public office, understand their thinking on Medicare, our largest public health care network, which, with our help, will continue to serve retirees long term, without being decimated by profit-mongers.
• Dr. Emily Kane is a senior advocate.