The baby boomers’ Medicare ball drops

John Guardiano Freelance Writer
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Happy New Year, right?! Hugs and kisses for all! Let’s all hold hands and sing “We are the World”!

Not so fast, because as Fox News’ Cheryl Casone reported yesterday morning on Cashin’ In, there’s a huge Medicare hangover that must be addressed, and sooner rather than later: Because the baby boomers and their Medicare threaten to bankrupt our country and consume the federal treasury.

After the ball dropped, the bombshell: Starting today, one baby boomer every eight seconds will turn 65 and qualify for Medicare. That is nearly three million folks this year alone.

The boomer milestone comes just days after the White House announced new Medicare rules regarding end-of-life counseling.

Someone here says it’s no coincidence: The government is now rationing care to pay for the massive healthcare law.

Is that what’s really going on?

Absolutely. As Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has observed

Obamacare’s notorious Section 1233, mandating government payments for end-of-life counseling [is back] — by administrative fiat.

A month ago, Medicare issued a regulation providing for end-of-life counseling during annual “wellness” visits. It was all nicely buried amid the simultaneous release of hundreds of new Medicare rules.

This “death panel” provision, Krauthammer notes, “aroused so much anxiety as a possible first slippery step on the road to state-mandated late-life rationing.” And so, “the Senate never included it in the final health-care law.”

But what Congress takes away, the Obama administration steals back through “regulatory stealth.” For Obama and his team, after all, “the will of Congress is a mere speed bump” on the path to “progressive progress.”

“This is the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Cashin’ In panelist Tracy Burns. “You’re going to counsel me at death?”

Look, 36 million baby boomers are going to be collecting Medicare over the next 10 years. The system is broke to begin with. So we’re just going to extend more services? Where are you going to get the money for this?

And you know what? Back out. Back out of my life and my end-of-life decisions.

Under the regulation, doctors and other healthcare providers are reimbursed (read: paid) for providing patients with “end-of-life counseling.”

“The concern here,” explained Casone,

is that the doctors are gonna go too far and maybe there’s gonna be incentives, more incentives down the road, to counsel folks:

‘Look, you’ve got six months left to live. Don’t choose the expensive options to extend your life.’

“The world existed [for] a long time without people having to counsel them about how they’re going to die,” said Cashin’ In panelist Wayne Rogers.

It’s a very personal thing. It has no business being under the aegis of any government program whatsoever…Those things are personal. They’re within the family.

That’s true. But they’re also decisions that the government now must grapple with because the government is paying for roughly half of all healthcare expenditures in America.

Indeed, as the University of Alabama at Birmingham reports: “The number of people age 65 and older will double between 2010 and 2050, with the number of those 85 and older increasing fourfold.”

“This new [Medicare] generation is coming on board,” Casone explained. And so, “there is [legitimate] concern about the cost of insuring these folks under Medicare.”

The concern is perhaps best summed up in these factoids, which Cashin’ In summarizes as “‘Booming’ Medicare Costs”:

  • 2.8 million boomers will be eligible for Medicare in 2011.
  • The government estimates that 76 million boomers will age onto Medicare over the next two decades.
  • Medicare costs are expected to jump 80% to $929 billion by 2020.
  • The Medicare trust fund will be depleted by 2029.

Many Republicans now in Congress campaigned on a pledge to “preserve and protect” Medicare. That’s smart politics and maybe even wise public policy — if by “preserve and protect” we mean “reform and marketize.”

Either way, there is no easy way out of our Medicare baby boom predicament. The party’s over; the new year has begun; and difficult choices must be made. Now.

John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.