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Proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher system would take health care in precisely the wrong direction--pushing up costs for current and future retirees, and eroding protections that Americans have earned through many years of hard work and taxes.

Yet, in a short-sighted attempt to save money, vouchers are being promoted on Capitol Hill as an answer to rising costs. Vouchers pose troubling risks for 565,094 Arkansans who are currently on Medicare, not to mention the 575,011 age 50 and older who will enter the program in the next 15 years.

Fortunately, President Donald Trump has promised to protect Medicare and Social Security. During the 2016 campaign, he told older voters: "I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare. You made a deal a long time ago."

Congress should follow the president's lead.

Vouchers would break a basic promise of Medicare, which is to provide a guaranteed benefit package. Under a voucher system, sometimes known as premium support, the basic promise could be tossed aside. Instead, consumers would get a fixed dollar amount to help pay for care in the private marketplace.

If that amount turns out to be insufficient, seniors and future retirees could have to pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets--at a time when they can least afford it.

Right here in Arkansas, Medicare recipients in poor health would quickly feel the pain of a voucher system. Nearly one in three Arkansans on Medicare have two or three chronic health conditions. They rely on care they can afford, so would particularly be affected. Under a voucher system, many with limited resources could end up in health plans that limit their choice of doctors and demand high out-of-pocket spending to get needed care.

Nationally, one in four Medicare beneficiaries has annual income below $14,350 and one in two has income below $24,150 a year. Raising their health-care costs could be disastrous, forcing many to choose between going to the doctor and paying for other necessities. Studies by the Congressional Budget Office and Medicare Payment Advisory Commission suggest that moving to vouchers could hit most Medicare beneficiaries in the pocketbook.

Medicare needs to be strengthened for future generations, but shifting costs to seniors and workers who've paid into the system their entire working lives is the wrong approach.

We can put Medicare on stable ground with common-sense solutions, such as clamping down on drug companies' high prices, improving coordination of care and use of technology, and cutting out over-testing, waste and fraud.

AARP is committed to working with elected officials of both parties to ensure that Medicare remains financially stable. But solutions must be responsible. On behalf of our more than 310,000 members in Arkansas and 38 million throughout the nation, AARP will continue to champion a Medicare system that delivers on the deal Americans have counted on and deserve.

If you share our opposition to vouchers for Medicare, please contact your members of Congress to make sure your voice is heard.

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Charlie Wagener of Beebe is state volunteer president of AARP Arkansas.

Editorial on 02/13/2017

Print Headline: Wrong direction

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