Medicare Trustees report predicts dire implications for future of cancer care, again

May 20, 2009

Recently released, the 2009 Medicare Trustees report projected that Medicare, the primary insurance carrier for much of the nation's cancer population, is in deep fiscal trouble. Amidst the clamor on Capitol Hill for revamping our health-care system, the daunting challenge of Medicare's dilemma is largely left off the table. Silence on this issue threatens our ability to deliver high-quality cancer care to our aging population.

According to the recently released Medicare Trustees report, Medicare is headed toward insolvency unless direct and resolute action is taken. The implications for our cancer population, many of whom are, or will soon be, Medicare recipients, looms large. For now, in the midst of heated debate over health-care reform, Medicare is the 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to engage.

In their annual report, the Medicare Trustees announced that both the Medicare Hospital Trust Fund and the Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund expenditures are growing faster than the rest of the economy. 

Put simply, Medicare is based on the generation transfer of funds, younger workers pay for the benefits of recipients. However, due to our low national fertility rate, our aging, longer-living population, and a precipitous rise in the cost of medical care, the model that came out of Johnson's Great Society can't sustain itself as it is currently financed. Something has to give.

In reaction to the report, acting CMS Administrator Kerry Weems said, "Under the current payment structure, a person who is 54 years old today cannot be assured that Medicare hospital benefits will be there when he or she turns 65 and first becomes eligible for Medicare."

 This year's report initiated a "Medicare funding warning" that requires the President to propose legislation to Congress that will address the issue. This is the third warning, three years running-President Bush submitted legislation in 2007 in response to a Trustee "warning." Congress took no action. Hopefully in response to the latest "warning" President Obama will propose legislation and Congress will listen. Our cancer care delivery system for elderly Americans who count on Medicare is at stake.