The Two-Way Street of Medicare Reform

Earlier this week, I posted in this space about the need for Congress to take the issue of entitlement reform seriously, and to avoid undermining serious discussion about proposals to improve Medicare with glib 30-second sound bites and attack ads during the upcoming campaign season.

But I only addressed half of the equation that is instrumental to constructive discussion on this issue.  As a group of physicians serving in Congress pointed out this week, organizations representing the interests of different population groups also have critical roles to play in this dialogue.

In an open letter to AARP, 18 doctors serving in the House and Senate point out, accurately, that “the American people deserve a mature, informed and thoughtful conversation about how to save the Medicare program and shore up its financing.”  They add that, absent reform, “AARP members aged 50-56 today – as well as future members – will see the end of Medicare as we know it.”

The doctors, in the letter, invite AARP to participate in publicly urging all members of Congress, regardless of political party, to “acknowledge the approaching insolvency of the Medicare trust fund and the program’s structural financing challenges.”

They’re right.  Structural change to Medicare, which is necessary if we’re to achieve long-term sustainability while maintaining quality and innovation for patients, will face a steep uphill battle if influential interest groups marshal their resources in opposition.  To the contrary, progress relies not just on officeholders, but also powerful advocacy groups, acknowledging that the status quo cannot be maintained and that change is necessary.

All of us who are engaged in healthcare policy advocacy bear this responsibility.