Sen. Richard Burr tells Newsmax that a healthcare reform bill he has co-authored will “save Medicare” by staving off the bankruptcy the program faces in a few years.
The North Carolina Republican also declares that Medicare reform is a “moral obligation” owed to current seniors and to future generations as well.
Burr was first elected in 2004, taking over the seat formerly held by Democrat John Edwards, and is a member of the Committee on Finance and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
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He is the co-author, along with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., of the Seniors’ Choice Act. Among its major provisions, the bill creates a private market option to current government programs, introduces income-based means testing, and increases the age of eligibility for Medicare.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Sen. Burr discusses the option allowing seniors to choose between a private healthcare plan and traditional Medicare.
“We’re confident enough that the competition of a private plan with a public plan will work,” he says. “We say this plan saves Medicare.
“Tom and I believe we have a moral obligation to people our parents’ age and to our children to make sure that Medicare is not only sustainable for the current generation but for generations to come. And by every Washington figure, the Part A trust fund is in bankruptcy somewhere between 2016 and 2022.
“That’s right around the corner. We’ve got a sense of urgency to do this.
“And we thought it was important that as we shored it up financially that we make sure we provide seniors with two things: choice and transparency. The average person in America has no idea of the cost of anything they get in healthcare. That’s a mistake. We’ve got to understand that it’s not free. We’ve got to understand what it costs.”
Asked at what point income-based means testing would begin for benefits recipients, Burr responds: “It’s at the first dollar. We income test so that low-income seniors’ co-pay may be only a dollar but high-income seniors may have as much as 50 percent skin in the game, up to a certain point.
“We believe we’ve got to begin to affect [healthcare] utilization through smarter choices that seniors make, and those smarter choices are usually triggered when you have to reach into your pocket and pay something.”
He said they want to “also rapidly transform the Medigap policy.”
Medigap programs provide private-sector supplemental coverage that makes Medicare recipients less mindful of unnecessary and wasteful medical spending. Burr’s bill would bar Medigap plans from covering the first $500 of a retiree’s liabilities, and caps Medigap coverage at 50 percent of the next $5,000 of out-of-pocket costs.
“We basically designed it so that no American should be able to buy their way to zero skin in the game,” Burr says.
As for the provision increasing the eligibility age — which would gradually rise from 65 to 67 by 2027 — Burr states: “Quite simply it’s a mathematical calculation. If we did all the reforms that the best and brightest have suggested, we can’t sustain the current cost of healthcare” without income testing and an increase in the age of eligibility.
Burr dismisses assertions that the private-market option would constitute a subsidy for private insurance companies.
“I’m convinced that our future has to be one where we address the cost of healthcare, and that really cannot be done unless we structurally change the way Medicare is put together,” he tells Newsmax.
Asked if he expects a vote in Congress on the bill in the near future, Burr says: “We hope so. We can’t think of a more important thing right now than to start the changes to Medicare” to stave off bankruptcy in coming years. “We think it’s a moral obligation and we hope that Americans across the country will see the same moral obligation that we have.”
Burr says he is confident that seniors will accept his Medicare reforms.
“I’m not willing to concede that seniors aren’t worried about their children and their grandchildren. They are. They want to make sure there is value for the money spent.
“We’ve got a tremendous job of education with seniors across the country, and with politicians in Washington, to convince them that there is a groundswell for fiscal responsibility.”
He also believes that all Americans, and not just seniors, will welcome his reform plan because “we eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board that Obamacare set up, which is solely there to determine what reimbursements and the scope of coverage will be for all private insurance in the future.
“We believe we’ll prove that markets are a better determinant than an independent board of 16 people who have no healthcare ties other than they’ve been charged with how they cut money out of the system.”
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