Apr 11, 2007

Medicare Waiting Period

Some excerpts from a USA Today article:
Each year, tens of thousands of Americans like [Roxianna] McCutchan find themselves disabled and unable to work. After going through the process to get Social Security disability income, most are shocked to discover that they have to wait two more years to be eligible for Medicare, the federal health program for elderly and disabled people ...

McCutchan and 20 others tell their stories about life in the two-year waiting period today in a report released by New York-based advocacy group the Medicare Rights Center, which is lobbying to end the waiting period.

"There's no more desperate group of uninsured Americans than people who are severely disabled, suddenly unemployed and without any access to health coverage," says Robert Hayes, the center's president ...

But cost could be a barrier: Estimates range from $5 billion to more than $8 billion a year to offer Medicare to disabled people in the waiting period — and Medicare's hospital fund is already expected to hit insolvency in just over a decade.

"There's a judgment call here about how big a problem is this," says Joe Antos, a health policy researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "If Congress decided to change the rule … (it is) locking in a permanent increase in entitlement spending of some amount forever." ...

Debating expansion of Medicare to cover disabled people in the waiting period thus puts Democrats in a dilemma, says Antos.

"Kids are a very appealing group politically," he says. "The disabled may not be as appealing politically."

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