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posted: 10/17/2012 6:35 PM

11th Congressional candidates detail plans for Medicare solvency

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  • Bill Foster, left, and Sen. Dick Durbin met with senior citizens in Joliet Friday to discuss the future of Medicare and Social Security.

       Bill Foster, left, and Sen. Dick Durbin met with senior citizens in Joliet Friday to discuss the future of Medicare and Social Security.
    James Fuller | Staff Photographer

  • Foster and Durbin share similar ideas on how to address the looming insolvency of Medicare.

       Foster and Durbin share similar ideas on how to address the looming insolvency of Medicare.
    James Fuller | Staff Photographer

  • Republican Judy Biggert, left, and Bill Foster

      Republican Judy Biggert, left, and Bill Foster

 
 

A Medicare round-table with senior citizens in Joliet hosted by 11th Congressional District hopeful Bill Foster brought into detail the stark differences the Democrat has with his Republican opponent, Judy Biggert.

The candidates agree changes are needed to Medicare as all projections see the program running short of money 12 years from now.

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Foster called for the end of government subsidies to the Medicare Advantage program. The program is a Medicare health plan offered through private companies that contract with the government to provide all the Part A and Part B benefits of the program. Foster said the privatization has only proved to increase the costs of Medicare.

"It's pretty much a failed experiment," Foster said. "Insurance companies were given the option of giving standard Medicare benefits for the same costs that the federal government pays. They said, 'We can't make money this way, we're going to need 13 or 14 extra percent.' They said that's temporary to get established in the market. OK. The experiment is over. Let's take away the 13 percent subsidy and if they can stay in the market and provide a better product at a better price, more power to them."

Foster also supports forcing hospitals to compete more for Medicare customers. His idea is to provide apples-to-apples ratings on quality measures, such as infection control, to let Medicare recipients choose the best and most cost-effective venues for treatment. Likewise, Foster supports giving free annual checkups to Medicare recipients to avoid costly hospitalizations through early detection of medical problems.

Foster does not support tort reform to decrease the use of costly extra procedures authorized by doctors to prevent lawsuits. He said tort reform has shown to not cut enough costs to be worth the effort. He favors statistical analysis of all medical procedures to show doctors when a treatment isn't effective for various ailments, and therefore a waste of money.

Biggert is both a supporter and sponsor of tort reform legislation to cut costs and reduce frivolous lawsuits filed against doctors. She is also a supporter of Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.

That plan allows people 55 and older to keep Medicare benefits as they currently exist. There is also an option for people younger than 55 to stay in the traditional Medicare program if they want. However, they are also given the option to take a fixed government premium subsidy (which some call a voucher) to purchase private insurance. Democrats, including Foster, believe the value of those premium subsidies/vouchers will not keep pace with increases in medical costs, forcing Medicare recipients to make up the difference with more money out of their own pockets. However, relatively recent modifications to Ryan's plan will allow the premium subsidies/vouchers to rise in value as tied to increases in overall medical premium costs in the market.

Biggert supports all of these proposed changes as voiced in a written statement she put out Wednesday.

"Medicare will be broke in just 12 years, and my opponent seems to have no idea how to ensure that it remains solvent," Biggert said. "I'm the only candidate in this race who has supported a plan that will preserve and protect Medicare for future generations, and seniors and future retirees in our district deserve nothing less."

Both campaigns continue to battle over whose plan takes $700 billion out of Medicare. The correct answer is neither plan that Foster and Biggert supports truly takes that money out of Medicare.

Foster supports the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). The act strips out $716 billion between the years 2013 to 2022 in payments to private insurers and hospitals, changes to Medicare Advantage and premium increases for higher-income users of Medicare to try to limit the growth of the Medicare budget. But there still will be growth in the Medicare budget, so the money is put back in to pay for additional preventive care services and prescription drug benefits in Medicare Part D.

It's not really a cut as much as taking money paid to insurers and hospitals and using it to fund a different part of Medicare, according to Politifact and other independent fact-checking organizations.

Ryan has publicly said his plan calls for the exact same $716 billion reductions in payments. Ryan has pledged those savings would also be put back into Medicare to extend its solvency.

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