For pharmacists, a large percentage of your patients are seniors who present with a host of chronic conditions that require multiple medications and careful drug management. Caring for this population presents both challenges and rewards. Many of your senior patients visit multiple times per month, and many of you surely have senior patients you look forward to seeing on a personal level.
On a professional level, however, you have probably thought about to what degree this age group is affecting the nation’s financial health. Recently, Pharmacy Times conducted a survey of our pharmacist readers that asked, “Do you support making significant cuts in Medicare and Medicaid in order to reduce the national deficit?”
Before I give you the results, I think it is important to realize just how much Medicare and Medicaid affect the country at large. Noted economist Robert J. Samuelson is convinced that the senior lobby, in the form of the AARP, has had a huge impact on our difficult economy. Samuelson and many others believe entitlement programs will continue to impact our future economy greatly.
It’s frightening how much of annual federal spending is fixed and will not budge. Under President Obama’s budget, for instance, annual federal spending rises from $3.7 trillion in 2012 to $5.7 trillion in 2021. Samuelson calls Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “the three major entitlements,” and he estimates that these account for 60% of the projected $2 trillion increase. More frightening is the fact that an additional 31% of that increase is due to the higher interest payments on our debt.
The clear takeaway from voters during the most recent mid-term elections was taxpayers telling lawmakers that current spending levels across all government programs are unsustainable. The problem is so critical that we might see bipartisan agreement on changing the way we handle entitlements as a first step in reducing spending. For their part, Republicans can stop politicizing cuts by attaching peripheral issues to budget proposals. Democrats must not continue to defend unsustainable spending levels, which cost them dearly in the mid-term elections.
Of course, any thought of tampering with Medicare or Medicaid is political suicide, although Representative Paul Ryan’s (R, WI) recent budget proposal included a good compromise, in that it would provide more choice for seniors while also still offering government assistance. The bottom line is this: spending has to be cut somewhere.
So what did pharmacists say about cutting these programs to help the deficit? A total of 48% said “Yes” we should cut Medicare and Medicaid; whereas 52% said “No.” Nearly half of you who are on the front lines, caring for seniors every day, recognize the need to scale back these programs. We will continue to follow this issue closely in future issues.
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