Medicare doesn't celebrate its 50th birthday until next month, but already one organization is blowing out the candles and making a wish.
With the landmark federal program hitting a half century on July 30, the nonprofit Medicare Rights Center is counting down each day of the final 50 leading up to it with a new suggestion on how to improve Medicare. The center — a 25-year-old consumer support group that helps seniors and those with disabilities navigate their insurance — kicked things off Thursday with its first wish: adding a comprehensive dental benefit.
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Stacy Sanders, federal policy director for the center, says the campaign is an entertaining way to draw attention to the anniversary, and engage people on social media to drum up ideas that might make Medicare even better in the future.
"It just sort of tumbled into this idea of a countdown to compile all of our policy recommendations into wishes," she says. "We were really committed to thinking big and also thinking small. You'll see things on there that are very aspirational, but you also see things that are very practical."
Subsequent entries on the list over this past weekend include making Medicare more affordable by expanding assistance for vulnerable, low-income beneficiaries; adding vision and hearing care benefits; and bolstering coverage of long-term services and supports such as respite care. The center is encouraging others to chip in their own suggestions on Facebook and Twitter in the coming weeks. About half way through the countdown, Sanders says, they'll send out a survey to determine No. 51 on the list, representing the "people's choice" on how to strengthen Medicare.
Compiling a list of 50 suggestions wasn't terribly difficult, Sanders says, as the organization had a tally of 20 runners-up that it also may release as part of the campaign. While Medicare has become a "cornerstone of health and financial security" for the country's most vulnerable people, she believes there are plenty of coverage gaps to address and shortcomings to fix going forward.
"While certainly its success is undeniable, there's a lot of room and a lot of opportunity to make it an even better program," she says. "Given that so many people are coming on to the program — you have 10,000 baby boomers aging into Medicare every day — that creates an imperative for policymakers to think about how to make the Medicare program simpler, more streamlined, easier to navigate and, ultimately, more affordable for retirees and people with disabilities."
What are your suggestions for making Medicare stronger for both hospitals and its beneficiaries in the next 50 years? Share your suggestions in the comment section. For more on the program's future, be sure to read our columnist Emily Friedman's take on the anniversary from earlier this month, and staff writer Paul Barr's look at the daunting task of absorbing the baby boom generation into Medicare as part of his yearlong series in 2014.