For a brief moment during the presidential campaign, it looked like the country was going to have a serious debate about the future of Medicare. But, alas, the negative ads and the dumbing down of positions about the subject, on both sides, if anything have made it even more difficult for our political leaders to make meaningful reforms in both programs now that the election is over.
Some disquieting polling data, reported by the Washington Post in late September, highlights the problem. The poll, taken jointly by the Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, asked a series of Medicare-related questions of voters in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. On the one hand, roughly three-quarters of the respondents in each of the states agreed that changes in Medicare were necessary to keep the program sustainable for the future. Yet large majorities in each state did not want to change the current fee-for-service reimbursement system; only about a third favored the notion of “premium support” in which the government gives fixed (but growing) amounts to seniors to purchase their own health insurance.