Dr Joe Antos: Attention Needs to Be on the Future Sustainability of Medicare

November 3, 2018

One of the big issues that policy makers need to pay more attention to is how to reform Medicare, which has about 10 years remaining until the baby boomers aging into the program now start to see increased medical costs and needs, said Joe Antos, PhD, the Wilson H. Taylor Resident Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

One of the big issues that policy makers need to pay more attention to is how to reform Medicare, which has about 10 years remaining until the baby boomers aging into the program now start to see increased medical costs and needs, said Joe Antos, PhD, the Wilson H. Taylor Resident Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Transcript

Is there a health policy issue that you think isn’t getting enough attention? That you think more people should talk about or that action should be taken?

I would distinguish between what people should be talking about and what government policy makers should be trying to deal with. People should be talking about their interaction with the health system, and they should make known, not just to policy makers but probably more importantly to their physician, to the insurance company, to consumer groups of all sorts issues that they see that could be resolved and probably wouldn’t be expensive or would even save money.

There are a whole bunch of things like that that every patient, after they’ve gone through an experience, will say, “Gee, why did they do X? Why did I have to wait until 3 o’clock in the morning to get some kind of scan when I came in through the emergency room and then they discharged me at 6 in the morning without telling me what happened?” We need better communication. That sort of thing. That’s not a policy matter. That’s a matter of the health section recognizing they have customers, not patients.

As far as policy makers are concerned, what should they be thinking about? Well, my favorite topic is Medicare. The Medicare program is undergoing a huge increase in population. The baby boomers are the largest generation ever on the face of the Earth. And they are steadily going into the Medicare program. They’re aging in at age 65; 10,000 people join Medicare every single day. They’re healthy now, because they’re relatively young. I think for this year they’re between the ages of, say, 65 and 70. That’s relatively young. We’re going to have maybe another 10 years of what I call a fiscal honeymoon for Medicare, which is that we’ll still have more relatively young people populating the Medicare program and the older people, who tend to be more expensive, they’re leaving the program in, regrettably, the only way you can.

However, in about 10 or 15 years those baby boomers, who were relatively young when they were 65, are going to be hitting the 75- to 80-year-old range and, at least from current data, we know that’s when health needs ramp up. That’s when costs ramp up. And we have a policy window that’s no more than 10 years in length, where we can make some changes in the program that would make it get over that hump, which is never going to go away, which is going to start in about 10 years. And we need a program that’s going to last not just for the next 10 years, not just for the next 20 years, we need a program that’s going to last. And I don’t see much movement in that because, after all, politicians only think from one election to the next.