Healthcare's budget plan leans on Medicare beneficiaries

Healthcare industry leaders are poised to make their own deficit-reduction suggestions--including some that might not win them points in a popularity contest. Uncertain what budget cuts the deficit-reduction committee might propose, the Healthcare Leadership Council has come up with its own proposal that would ask Medicare beneficiaries to endure more belt-tightening themselves, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The group is aiming to put forward an alternative more palatable than across-the-board Medicare cuts mandated by the deficit-reduction bill if the "supercommittee" doesn't agree on its own plan. And it's betting that its proposal will be easier to bear than budget-cutting ideas floated in the past, such as drug re-importation.

The council, which includes Big Pharma executives, hospital companies and insurers, crafted a plan that would raise the Medicare-eligibility age little by little to 67 from 65, beginning in 2014. It would hike co-pays and deductibles. It would require well-off seniors to pay higher premiums. And it would add private-sector competition to traditional Medicare coverage, pitting government-subsidized private insurance plans against regular Medicare.

Requiring seniors to pay more might be considered a non-starter; after all, consumer groups, particularly AARP, have vociferously fought against such moves in the past. But the council figures that provider-based Medicare cuts will end up costing beneficiaries when all is said and done. "This thinking that we're protecting beneficiaries because we're only cutting providers--that's mythical," said Mary Grealy, the council's president, according to the WSJ. "At some point it does affect beneficiaries."

- read the WSJ story