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Medicare Reform: Give it a Chance (Just One Time)

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This week Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) introduced a proposal to eliminate $600 billion from the Medicare system. They should have been applauded, commended and celebrated around the country. Instead, democrats swiftly rejected their proposal. No questions asked. They were portrayed by liberals as attacking the benefits of seniors and of being out of touch with main stream America. I would argue they may be the most "in touch" members of the Senate. Sadly Americans will not have the opportunity to hear how this proposal could actually maintain Medicare as a viable program for seniors and disabled while addressing its long term funding crisis.

To me, a believer in the healthcare reform legislation, these attacks were unfair, misguided, and quite frankly, downright ridiculous. There is no question the Medicare program is in financial trouble. Whether you are a republican, democrat, or independent, no one can argue the Medicare program has sufficient funds to pay for all the expected benefits for future generations of Americans who will rely on this entitlement program.

While there is nothing simple when it comes to healthcare, Senators Lieberman and Coburn have some rational (and admittedly controversial) ideas for saving the Medicare program including:

1) Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from the current 65;
2) Increasing the premiums for wealthy seniors for their Part B premiums (the doctor portion of the program),
3) Implementing real and meaningful steps to reduce fraud and waste and simplify how healthcare is administered.

This country can no longer afford politics as usual; particularly when it comes to saving Medicare, and the country, from financial ruin. When Medicare was created back in 1965, Americans did not live as long and we did not spend as much on our healthcare as a percentage of gross domestic product. Simply put, healthcare costs were much lower and less significant to our overall economy as they are today. So the idea that we can leave the existing program intact, without making meaningful and structural changes is a flawed argument. While there are certainly many ideas and programs to fix Medicare, I believe it is going to require a full blown overhaul. The creators of Medicare did not intend for the program to bankrupt the country or run out of money in 20 years from now.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a meaningful, and in my belief, good start in addressing some of our country's biggest challenges: providing healthcare access to all Americans. However, while there are many initiatives included in the legislation to meet this goal, I believe the law does not adequately provide the mechanisms to save enough money to keep the program viable. The funding issues facing Medicare are as significant now as they were when the act became law in March 2010. As I was a year ago when the law was passed, I am concerned over its long term financial viability.

During the debate over healthcare reform, I was very clear that the legislation being discussed and debated at the time had many flaws. I was also clear in my belief that while the bill was not perfect, it was a very bold and good first step in reforming our healthcare system. Some at that time called me liberal even though I have always been independent. Nor does it make me a conservative because I believe Senators Coburn and Lieberman have a reasonable proposal. It makes me, and others, practical.

If we are going to be able to solve the enormous challenges facing our country, we are going to have to find a way to move past partisan bickering and be open to new ideas. There are some very important issues to consider:

1) The current Medicare program is not sustainable in its current form. We know this because both parties and the Congressional Budget office agree that at some point in near future, if we do not restructure the program, Medicare will run out of money.
2) There is no one good answer to solve this problem. And since there are so many problems and an even greater number of solutions, we are all going to have to accept compromise. Liberals and conservatives, along with independent politicians are going to have to stop the nonsense and sit together to work something out.
3) The rhetoric is wasting valuable time which our country can ill afford.

The current proposal requires compromise and sacrifice from everyone and it will not be easy. We must be willing to try. If for no other reason, Medicare will run out of money and changes will be rushed and forced on all of us. Careful planning will go by the wayside. It's always better to plan ahead and make changes/fix mistakes along the way, particularly when it comes to something as complex as fixing Medicare. Give Senators Lieberman and Coburn a chance to be heard. Ultimately, America may say no to their idea and that is democracy at work. But to silence potentially good ideas without meaningful debate and discussion is a national shame. Further, it prolongs the impression that nothing can be done in Washington. It puts all of us, who will someday rely on the Medicare system, at risk of losing a national safety net that is too important to go away.