By Tony Fransetta

Access to health care for all seniors is important. Having a Medicare system that works? Crucial.

As we age, visits to doctors’ offices increase. Before President Johnson signed Medicare into law 44 years ago, many seniors lacked health care because of the cost. Imagine! But now, through Medicare, our federal government provides a valuable program for seniors and people with disabilities to improve their medical well-being. Coverage has helped reduce senior poverty by two-thirds.

Since 2003 and the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act, Medicare Advantage plans (code for private insurance companies) have taken a toll on traditional Medicare. These Medicare Advantage plans are reimbursed at a higher rate than traditional Medicare, sometimes as much as 17 percent higher. This cost is being paid out of the traditional Medicare fund and is a strain on the Medicare budget. Passage of health-care reform will reduce this overpayment to private insurance companies, thereby easing any burden on working families' tax dollars.

In addition to cost savings in overpayments, meaningful reform will prohibit private-insurer discrimination against seniors with pre-existing conditions. Also, seniors will have more control when choosing providers.

The cost of prescription drugs, too, will go down. As things stand now, seniors on fixed or limited incomes often face agonizing either/or choices between high-priced medications and ever-increasing living expenses. True reform will provide more help for low-income seniors, more flexibility in changing drug plans and a closing of the dreaded donut hole – a gap in coverage that costs the average Medicare recipient thousands of dollars. All of these factors -- and the promise of no co-payments for Medicare preventive services such as check-ups and cancer screenings -- add up savings for all seniors and taxpayers.

There's more.

Meaningful reform should also bring savings to Medicare in the form of early Medicare enrollees. Persons age 55-64 (the pre-Medicare age group) should be allowed to buy-in to Medicare. More than 5 million Americans age 55-64 do not have health insurance. People in this age group should be able to see a doctor more often, especially for preventive care as this is the wrong time in your life to have to cut corners with your health. Through meaningful reform we can create an affordable way for them to buy in to Medicare coverage.

This early enrollment would allow people to seek medical care for their ailments. As of right now, these pre-Medicare people wait until they turn 65 and enter the Medicare system already ill. Sometimes, they have waited so long that their once easily treatable condition is now an expensive and life-threatening illness. An opportunity to buy-in at a younger age reduces the possibility of long term health care issues.

In fact, why not extend Medicare to everyone?

Medicare is a great American success story. Medicare for all would be a great American legacy.
Fransetta is president of Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Florida Forum