The president opened last week's State of the Union address, calling for "modest" changes to contain Medicare costs. One of the president's primary audiences, Congress, faces a series of deadlines in the coming months, including automatic spending cuts on March 1, expiration of the federal budget patch on March 27 and the impending debt ceiling this summer. Any one of these deadlines may force decisions about Medicare's future.
As the approach of the so-called "Fiscal Cliff" nears, many advocates nationwide are making this message clear: Medicare benefit cuts are not an option. In a letter to the president and Congress, AARP states, "As we move forward, it is clear that older Americans want the focus of the debate to be on reducing overall health costs and not simply targeting Medicare and Medicaid for budget cuts." Just days after the election, a collective of the largest and most powerful progressive voices ran a Washington Post advertisement to the president and Congress that included, "No cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security benefits or shifting costs to beneficiaries or the states," as one of five guiding principles for reducing the federal deficit. Medicare Rights Center joined 146 national organizations in support of this very same message.
Although Election Day is behind us, Medicare remains on working people's minds. Medicare ranked third to the economy and federal deficit as an issue of extreme importance in deciding how people voted. For months now, pundits, candidates and policymakers have wrestled one another about Medicare's future. Taking place at town hall meetings and on editorial pages, these battles were mostly waged in fiscal terms. Medicare's sustainability, the fiscal slope and the cost of insuring the Baby Boomers are hot topics for debate. Attention will now turn from the candidates' promises to their actual proposals.