WASHINGTON BUREAU -- Congress should increase the normal Medicare eligibility age to 67 and replace the government-run basic Medicare program with access to private plans, according to the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC).
The HLC, Washington, represents large pharmaceutical companies, device makers, insurers and health care providers. Members include Aetna Inc., Hartford (NYSE:AET).
The group has sent what it says is a proposal that could cut Medicare spending by $410 billion over 10 years to congressional leaders and to members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction - the 12-member "Super Committee" that is supposed to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions by Thanksgiving.
HLC President Mary Grealy writes in a letter describing the proposal that Congress should:
Gradually increase the standard Medicare eligibility age to 67, from 65 today.
Have participants in the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program use vouchers to buy coverage through a new Medicare exchange that would give insurers a chance to compete on the basis of cost, quality and value.
Require individuals with annual incomes of $150,000 and over to pay the full cost of Medicare Parts B physician services coverage and Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.
Make the Medicare Part A hospitalization plan and Medicare Part B physician services plan beneficiary cost-sharing uniform, with a reasonable deductible and co-payment levels and a cap on annual out-of-pocket costs.
Grealy says the HLC also believes changes in the Medicare program should include medical liability reform.
The proposed changes "will contribute to deficit reduction without placing an unfair or disproportionate burden on patients, healthcare consumers or our most vulnerable citizens," Grealy says.
Grealy says the goal of HLC members is to advocate reforms that address Medicare's shrinking window of financial solvency.
"This 'super committee' process is a unique opportunity to do more than simply chop away at budgets," Grealy says. "Rather than swing a conventional ax, why not take the bold step of pursuing reforms that save money while confronting the entitlement challenges that become more difficult to solve the longer we wait?