“Medicare Wastes Billions”

…so reads the banner headline in the Register Guard. What’s this story about?

“Millions of Americans with respiratory diseases have relied on oxygen equipment, delivered to their homes, to help them breathe. A basic setup, deliveries of small oxygen tanks for three years, can be bought from pharmacies and other retailers for as little as $3,500.

Unless, that is, the buyer is Medicare, the government health care program for older Americans.

Despite enormous buying power, Medicare pays … as much as $8,280.”

Those damn government bureaucrats!

But wait, if I actually follow the article to page 4 and read further, it turns out that officials and politicians are trying to cut the costs but “they have encountered a powerful foe:

“…the companies that sell these devices, who ask their elderly customers to serve, in effect, as unpaid lobbyists, calling and writing to their representatives in Congress, protesting at rallies, and even participating in political attacks against individual lawmakers who take on the issue.

It seems to me that a headline reading “Companies Force Medicare to Waste Billions” might have been more informative. Or maybe the headline actually used by the original publisher of the piece, the NY Times: “Oxygen Manufacturers Fight to Keep a Medicare Boon.

Am I picking nits here? I don’t think so because there is a big difference between believing government did the wrong thing due to the general incompetence of government officials, and believing government did the wrong thing due to pressure from private interests. One view leads to a desire to reduce the power of government officials (cut taxes!); the other suggests that private interests have too much influence (cut influence of lobbyists!!).

In any event, the problem doesn’t end with oxygen equipment manufacturers a few billion dollars wasted a year:

“Physician groups, medical device manufacturers, insurance companies and other businesses have rallied aging voters to protest even minor legislative changes (in Medicare reimbursements).

“These industries rely on a basic threat: If you mess with us, we can turn the seniors against you,” said former Senator Alan K. Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, who tried cutting Medicare payments while he was in Congress.

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1 Comment

Filed under corporate welfare, healthcare finance

One response to ““Medicare Wastes Billions”

  1. This NY Times article doesn’t even make sense. You can’t get oxygen therapy on the Internet, which is what they would have you use as a basis for payment. Medicare pays $7.63 per day for oxygen therapy (equipment, service, set up, back up supply, 24-7 on call service, etc.) provided in the homes of Medicare beneficiaries, typically COPD patients in their 70s. This therapy reduces trips to the ER and hospitalizations for COPD exacerbations. Typical cost of Medicare covered day in a hospital: $4,600. Congress has cut reimbursement nearly in half over the past 10 years and has passed laws to cut another 20 percent over the next two years, which will may make it impossible to receive oxygen therapy in some parts of the country, particularly rural areas. It makes you wonder what the real agenda for this NYT article is. This is a deeply biased, flawed article about a cost-effective benefit in Medicare that represents less than one half of one percent of total Medicare spending. See http://www.aahomecare.org for the truth about this topic.

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