President Obama is criss-crossing the country, warning that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would “end Medicare as we know it.” Attention, New York’s 3 million seniors: Don’t be fooled. It’s the Obama health law that destroyed Medicare, though the impact will not be felt for another year or more.
Scientific evidence indicates that the changes made by ObamaCare will shorten the lives of some elderly hospital patients and make it hard for Medicare enrollees to get treated. The only thing left of Medicare is the membership card.
ObamaCare cuts future funding for Medicare by over half a trillion dollars in the next 10 years. Most cuts are made by slashing what hospitals, physicians, hospice care and dialysis centers will be paid. Doctors will get less to care for a senior than for a patient on Medicaid and only a third of what a doctor will be paid to care for a patient with private insurance. New York, the hospital capital of the nation, will be especially hard hit.
Last year, Richard Foster, chief actuary for Medicare, warned Congress that seniors will have difficulty finding doctors and institutions to accept Medicare. Doctors who do accept Medicare will not want to spend time doing procedures such as hip replacements, when the pay is so low. Yet the law bars them from providing the care you want for an extra fee. You’re trapped.
Foster also warned that within a decade, 40 percent of health-care institutions could be forced to operate at a loss. New York hospitals are bracing for the hit.
When hospitals run in the red, they can employ fewer nurses and buy less diagnostic equipment.
Cutting hospital payment rates has been tried before, with deadly results. When Medicare cut payments to hospitals in 1997, hospitals hit with the biggest cuts saw death rates for elderly heart-attack patients go up.
A $1,000 reduction in what hospitals could spend on a heart-attack patient led to a 6 percent to 8 percent hike in the death rate, due to fewer nurses and other staff, according to a 2011 National Bureau of Economic Research paper.
Apply that to the Obama health law. In 2019, according to Medicare’s actuaries, the program will spend $1,431 less per enrollee than if the health law had not been enacted. But that’s on average. The one in five enrollees who will need hospital care that year could see it fall by $6,000 or more.
When partisans for ObamaCare say cutting hospital payments will not impact care, don’t believe it. Cuts will result in fewer elderly patients surviving their hospital stays.
Seniors also risk losing access to colonoscopies and other preventative services. The Obama health law empowers the secretary of Health and Human Services to eliminate preventative services for seniors based on the recommendations of the US Preventative Services Task Force (the panel that recommended women over 74 not get routine mammograms). A half page later the secretary is empowered to “increase” preventative services for Medicaid recipients. The winners and losers are clear.
As of October 2012, hospitals that spend the least on seniors will get rewarded; those that spend more will get whacked with demerits. The government calls it “efficiency,” but it’s stingy care.
Data from all hospitals in California show that seniors treated in hospitals providing lower-intensity, lower-cost care have a higher risk of dying instead of recovering and going home. Yet, the Obama administration is pressuring all hospitals to imitate the low-spending ones.
The election should not turn on the lie that Obama will protect Medicare as we’ve known it. Unless the Obama health law is repealed, seniors will have difficulty getting the care they need, and some will die sooner.
Repeal is the key issue in the presidential election, not the merits of Paul Ryan’s alternative proposals. If the Romney-Ryan ticket wins, these proposals will go through many changes during the lawmaking process. But ObamaCare is already the law, and it’s dangerous.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and author of “The Obama Health Law: What It Says and How to Overturn It.”