My neighbor had his hip replaced. Medicare paid for everything -- nearly $50,000 worth of surgery, hospitalization, medicine and rehabilitation.
It was life changing for Jim, who had gotten to the point where he could barely walk. It wasn't long ago that a guy like him living in retirement who had worn out his body driving and unloading a truck would suffer, maybe use a wheelchair, and probably die young.
Today, with medical know-how and Medicare to pay for it, Jim and others like him with modest resources can afford the best. And their retirement planning can include the prospect of years of active and pleasurable life.
That wasn't always true. According to data from the Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1965, when Medicare was created, the poverty rate among those older than 65 was 30 percent; today it is 7.5 percent. Part of this newfound wealth is almost certainly the availability of reasonably priced health care.
Some analysts from the Kaiser Family Foundation argue that even doing something that seems relatively painless -- like raising the age of Medicare eligibility by two years from 65 to 67 -- actually has costly consequences.
The foundation says:
- State Medicaid costs would rise because those who lost Medicare coverage (those with the lowest incomes) would obtain coverage through Medicaid instead.
- Employer costs would rise as more 65- and 66-year-olds whose employers offered coverage to their retirees received primary coverage through their employer rather than Medicare.
- All Medicare beneficiaries would pay higher premiums because the removal of 65- and 66-year-olds, who are typically healthier than the overall Medicare population, would in effect subsidize older recipients.
With Medicare high on the list of things the new Congressional "super committee," is considering cutting, could we be forced to go backward? Let's hope not.