July 30, 2011

Source: Think Progress
Source: Think Progress

This week, the website of the New England Journal of Medicine includes a report by Harvard researcher Robert Blendon and colleagues on “The Public’s Views on Medicare and the Budget Deficit” based upon an analysis of 21 opinion polls. Their conclusions include that the public believes the budget deficit to be serious but does not think the way to solve it is by cutting Medicare.

I’m not sure what the freshmen members of the House of Representatives think of such sentiments but in 1995, Newt Gingrich was reported to have said in a speech to Blue Cross/Blue Shield about Medicare, “We don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that would be politically smart, and we don’t think that is the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are going to voluntarily leave it.” Medicare has been a highly successful program and, according to this recent analysis of opinion polls, continues to be highly popular among beneficiaries. With the Medicare-eligible population burgeoning, the program needs to be reformed–as does our whole health care system. We’re spending too much money in the last few weeks of life without producing satisfactory end-of-life experiences for many patients and their families. We rely too much on acute care and not enough on health promotion and better managing chronic illnesses.

The analysis by Blendon and colleagues indicates that the public would rather raise taxes on the wealthy than cut Medicare, reduce aid to foreign countries, reduce military spending, and increase taxes on corporations. One wonders what the freshmen members of Congress must be thinking. Is the aim to cripple government and Medicare to achieve Gingrich’s prediction? Their mantra is that the people elected them to radically change the role of government and how Washington works. Perhaps some did. But for many older Americans and those approaching Medicare eligibility, the message from opinion polls is “hands off my Medicare!”  We need to move agressively on the opportunities in the Affordable Care Act for transforming how and what care is delivered and paid for under Medicare.

Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN, Rudin Professor of Nursing and Co-Director, CHMP