Courtesy of Roll Call by Joel White (Sept. 18, 2013)
The Medicare program, and the 49 million elderly and disabled Americans who rely on it, are facing an uphill battle when it comes to quality and cost.
Some 10,000 baby boomers sign up for Medicare each day. This first wave will push total program enrollment from 50.7 million in 2012 to 81 million in 2030. Considering that adults age 65 and over account for the highest level of health care spending among all age cohorts, an increasingly larger share of taxpayer dollars will flow to Medicare services.
Access, already an issue, will become a major headache. As more medical students choose to enter higher-paying specialty fields — just 8 percent of medical students enter family medicine — there is an increasing shortage of primary care providers. Already, more than 60 million Americans lack access to primary care services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The majority of Medicare’s costs come from the treatment of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. In fact, about 82 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have one or more chronic conditions.
Fortunately, there are proven solutions to help patients better manage chronic diseases and access primary care providers that are already reducing costs and addressing the shortage issue. Unfortunately, constrained by the Medicare law, most seniors and the disabled do not have access to these solutions.
Telemedicine is transforming the delivery of care by bringing health care providers and patients together virtually. Often, because of disease, transportation or mobility issues, Medicare beneficiaries are not able to travel long distances to receive the treatment they need. For this group, telemedicine has the potential to increase access to care, improve patient outcomes and combat rising health care costs. By remotely monitoring or consulting with a patient, providers are able to be involved proactively with their care, anywhere and at any time.