Robert Reich: Medicare Isn't the Problem. It's the Solution

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U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) shows a collection of media headlines outlining initially negative reaction in 2005 of the Medicare drug plan, during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 24, 2013. Jason Reed/Reuters

Again and again the upcoming election you'll hear conservatives claim that Medicare—the health insurance program for America's seniors—is running out of money and must be pared back.

Baloney. Medicare isn't the problem. In fact, Medicare is more efficient than private health insurance. The real problem is that the costs of health care are expected to rise steeply.

Medicare could be the solution—the logical next step after the Affordable Care Act toward a single-payer system.

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Some background: Medicare faces financial problems in future years because of two underlying trends that will affect all health care in coming years, regardless of what happens to Medicare:

The first is that health care costs are rising overall—not as fast as they were rising before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, but still rising too quickly.

The second is that the giant post­war baby boom is heading toward retirement and older age. Which means more elderly people will need more health care, adding to the rising costs.

So how should we deal with these two costly trends? By making Medicare available to all Americans, not just the elderly.

Remember, Medicare is more efficient than private health insurers ­­whose administrative costs and advertising and marketing expenses are eating up billions of dollars each year.

If more Americans were allowed to join Medicare, it could become more efficient by using its growing bargaining power to get lower drug prices, lower hospital bills, and healthier people.

Allowing all Americans to join Medicare is the best way to control future health care costs while also meeting the needs of the baby boomer and other Americans.

Everyone should be able to sign up for Medicare on the health care exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. This would begin to move America away from its reliance on expensive private health insurance, and toward Medicare for all—a single­ payer system.

Medicare isn't a problem. It's part of the solution.

Robert B. Reich, chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 13 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock and The Work of Nations. His latest, Beyond Outrage, is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, Inequality for All, is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, and On Demand. This article first appeared on RobertReich.org.

Robert Reich: Medicare Isn't the Problem. It's the Solution | Opinion