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Everybody likes Medicare -- so why not try it for everybody?

By Elizabeth Frost, M.D.
Twin Cities Daily Planet, July 31, 2011

The other day Representative Michelle Bachmann was taking a hit at President Obama: She accused the national health reform law of trying to destroy Medicare and force the evils of Obamacare onto the elderly. That Obama. But really, isn’t it interesting that even Michelle Bachman jumps up to defend one of our nation’s largest "socialist" programs? Why is that? Why is it so popular that Paul Ryan may meet his political demise by trying to gut it? This weekend Medicare has its 46th birthday, and I want to write a little about why we should be celebrating.

First of all, Medicare saves money. Its overhead is between 1-3%, in contrast to the private insurance industry that has administrative and profit overheads of 10-25%. That is a savings of 10 – 20%. Also costs don’t increase as fast in Medicare as they do in private insurance. We are a nation with a lot of new health technology, we live longer and this does cost money. For example since 1970 the cost of medical care adjusted to inflation has gone up 400%. That is a big increase, but the same time period from 1970 to today the cost of private insurance adjusted for inflation has gone up 700%.

We also know that Medicare is a good deal for the tax payers by looking at Medicare Advantage Insurance programs. This was the attempt by the Bush Administration to create "competition" by privatizing some Medicare programs. They have shown to waste billions of dollars by charging more for healthier patients and then dropping those same patients once they become sick. It is called "picking the cherries and spitting out the core" and it is a real phenomena. The Obama’s Affordable Care Act is slowly shutting down the wasteful private health insurance options for Medicare.

So all we need to do to make Medicare financially solvent is to increase the payroll tax by a small fraction of a percent. The rate has only been increased once, in the mid-80s, and it is time to do it again.

Medicare is an efficient, effective way of health care financing. It is what we all want for our parents and ourselves as we get older and heck -- it probably is a good idea for the entire nation. If we had Medicare-For-All maybe it would be so popular that Michelle Bachmann would be forced to defend it, too.

Elizabeth Frost is a family doctor practicing in Minneapolis. She co-chairs the Minnesota Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.