This week the Board of Trustees for Medicare released their annual report on the financial operations and long-term outlook of the Medicare program, among others. The report offered the same anticipated time frame as last year’s findings – the Medicare trust fund will be “exhausted” by 2024. Monday’s news ignited a frenzy of debate among interested parties, with the Administration pointing to improvements in the program’s outlook thanks to provisions in the Affordable Care Act, while others leveraged it as validated rationale for reforming the program altogether. Regardless of party lines, this fact holds true – in order to truly bend the cost curve and improve the outlook of our health care system, we must collectively focus on tackling the number one health care cost driver– chronic disease.
Medicare spending will grow faster than the trustees projected, according to Medicare Chief Actuary Richard Foster. When you consider that largely preventable and highly manageable chronic diseases account for more than 90 cents of every dollar spent on Medicare and Medicaid, yet we spend less than 5 cents on prevention, there’s undoubtedly much that can be done to improve the solvency of this long-standing program by improving the health of beneficiaries. Supporting evidence-based, well-designed programs that better prevent, detect and manage cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases is a solid approach to achieving this.
The “exhaustion” of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by 2024 means that the fund won’t have enough money on hand to cover the benefits they’re designed to provide, and that could translate into a reduction in services, higher copayments, or both for older Americans. With the Medicare population primed to double by the year 2030, now more than ever what’s needed is a renewed focus on investing in and promoting policies that will both tackle the incidence of chronic disease and reduce health care spending. Doing so would provide the greatest promise of improving the outlook of Medicare, the overall health care system and the health and well-being of millions of Americans.