Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 | 9:21 a.m.
Congress appears pleased with the progress it has made so far in drafting a bill to modernize Medicare. The major accomplishment of the bill, which may be finalized within days, would be the inclusion of a prescription drug benefit, something that has become necessary since the program began 38 years ago. Medicare, partially funded through federal taxes withheld from paychecks, serves people over 65 and many disabled people of all ages. More than 40 million people are enrolled.
Adding the prescription drug benefit would cost $400 billion, a large amount even by Washington standards. This has Congress looking for ways to trim Medicare costs, such as inviting private companies to help administer the program and trimming benefits for eligible recipients who have personal wealth. Additionally, Congress is planning to cut the costs of one of Medicare's most popular programs -- home health care -- by requiring a co-payment from those receiving this personalized service from nurses and aides. For every 60 days of care, a recipient would pay $40 to $45. This may not sound like a lot -- until you consider who receives this service. Mostly it's aged men and women or disabled people, who are squeaking by on $15,000 a year or much less.
In our view, charging for home health care represents a big step backward. The purpose of the Medicare bill is to expand services and make the program more accessible. Forcing a co-pay defeats the whole purpose of home health care, which is to allow people to be treated inexpensively in their homes instead of having to be institutionalized, which is depressing for the patients and outrageously expensive for the government. In 1972 Congress dropped the co-pay for those very reasons. Instead of going backward, Congress should stick to its goal of modernizing Medicare. All thought of a co-pay for home health care should be abandoned.