Two things happened over the past few days that caused me to think more seriously about health care reform. First, my daughter, a physician, brought me a copy of a documentary film, Vanishing Oath, by physician-filmmaker Ryan Flesher. The film looks at the lives of health care providers under the current health care system and documents the abandonment of the profession by seemingly good and dedicated physicians. The film is well-balanced but offers no suggestions about change, focusing only on the likely doctor shortage. I recommend it to anyone teaching a law and health care policy course.
Second, today I spent almost an hour on the telephone with Social Security and the Medicare Coordinator of Benefits trying to determine why I had been enrolled in both Medicare part A and B since I am still working and covered by my University’s health care plan. I did not want to be charged the $115.40 monthly premium for Medicare part B. Even though it was their mistake I still had to send a written request to Social Security asking to be dropped from Medicare part B.
Although I support universal health care provided by a single payer, this experience gives me pause. Do I really want to government in control of health care access? An Associated Press-GfK poll found that public support for comprehensive health is dropping. My concern is timely given the ongoing and fractious debate in Congress about the budget, including discussions about reform of Medicare. Further, on Wednesday President Obama is expected to propose modest changes in Medicare and Medicaid. (Please comment on his proposal.)
I agree with Princeton economist Paul Krugman that privatizing Medicare is problematic. I prefer to spend that hour on the telephone talking with a kind public servant. But I also realize that cost controls are necessary if the program in some form is to be preserved.
I a relatively affluent educated American am fearful about my access to health care and physicians in retirement and the future of Medicare. Barring some health catastrophe, I will survive, but I cannot image what the majority of Americans will do if needed reform substantially undercuts these benefits.