President Obama’s Medicare cuts are killing seniors. His health law changed Medicare, adding bonuses for hospitals that spend the least per senior. The result? Hundreds of hospitals are skimping on care to win bonuses. Seniors at these hospitals aren’t getting the right antibiotic or other treatments they need. They’re dying from pneumonia, heart attacks and heart failure at higher rates than patients in other hospitals that provide more care.
So much for Obama’s promise that cutting Medicare wouldn’t harm seniors.
News of the deaths at low spending hospitals, reported in Health Affairs, comes just as GOP front-runner Donald Trump meets with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Medicare cuts are on the long list of policy disagreements between the two Republicans. Trump pledges not to cut Medicare. Ryan and GOP members of Congress are pushing to repeal Obamacare but want to keep Obama’s Medicare cuts. Trump is right on this one.
The report found that 231 hospitals rewarded with Medicare bonuses for low spending per senior provide inferior care. Seniors having heart attacks wait too long for angioplasties, for example. They’re dying when they would survive at a higher-spending hospital.
Sec. 3001 of The Affordable Care Act claims to tie these bonuses to “quality” but hospitals can win the most points — and biggest Medicare bonuses — by spending the least. Never mind who perishes.
The Obama administration was warned that rewarding low-spending hospitals could be dangerous to seniors’ health. Reports in the journal Circulation and in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed more deaths at low-spending hospitals. In fact, 17,822 seniors who died over four years in the lowest-spending hospitals in California would have survived with more care.
Bonuses aren’t the only dangerous incentives built into the president’s health law. Obamacare overhauls how Medicare pays doctors and hospitals. Providers keep more for themselves when their patients get fewer tests, see fewer specialists, and go directly home from the hospital without recuperating at rehab. More money for less care. It sets up a conflict of interest between patients and doctors.
When Medicare was enacted in 1965, the law barred the government from interfering in how doctors treated patients. Over the decades, that protection eroded slightly, but Obamacare guts it entirely, turning the financial screws on doctors and hospitals to limit care.
Ignoring this reality, the Clinton campaign is road-testing a new scaremongering attack against Trump, calling him a “heartless tycoon” who would put Medicare at risk.
The truth is, Trump vows to undo Obamacare’s Medicare cuts. The heartless ones are the Democrats, who are willing to slash Medicare to pay for Obamacare. Subsidies for health plan buyers on the exchanges will cost $800 billion in the next decade. And to pay the tab, Medicare will be cut by precisely that amount over the same period, says the Congressional Budget Office.
The Democrats’ agenda is clear: Robbing Grandma to pay for a new entitlement for younger constituents.
Republicans should repeal all of Obamacare, including the Medicare cuts, so seniors will get the care they need.
Unfortunately, that is not Ryan’s plan. His GOP replacement for Obamacare — soon to be unveiled — will include subsidies for consumers to buy health plans. It’s Obamacare lite — a new entitlement paid for by continuing the Medicare cuts. That’s morally wrong.
No Republican health bill should be paid for on the backs of seniors.
As for Medicare’s finances, they’re in trouble. Medicare Trustees predict the Hospital Fund will go dry by 2030. Obama’s Medicare cuts didn’t help, because he spent the “savings” on his costly health law.
Republican proposals, like raising the eligibility age, asking wealthier seniors for higher premiums and adding private plan options, would help keep Medicare solvent. Trump and Ryan probably won’t discuss these details on Thursday. But one lesson they must take away from the grim report on hospital skimping: Medicare reform should not cost seniors their lives.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.” To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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