5 steps to bipartisan cuts in Medicare – and the deficit

Medicare is the single greatest contributor to long-term deficits. If Democrats and Republicans cooperate on waste-cutting ideas – many of which are backed by President Obama – both parties stand to gain. Here are five ways Congress should act.

5. Prevent expensive care with better use of medicine

Not following instructions for medication leads to 125,000 deaths and $290 billion in spending in the United States every year. Many obstacles stand in the way of patients properly taking medicine: concerns about side effects, forgetfulness, the complexity of taking multiple drugs, and the cost of drugs.

Doctors, pharmacists, and health plans can improve medication adherence with new tools and resources. These health professionals can better help patients avoid side effects and understand the benefits of taking drugs consistently. Medicare should recoup its costs from poor use of medicine by rewarding doctors, pharmacists, and health plans when they make it easy for patients to take their medications.

Eliminating waste through these steps will require a concerted effort over many years. Progress has already begun, however, under the Affordable Care Act. Medicare is experimenting with new ways to pay providers for the quality of their care instead of the quantity.

In the near term, Medicare’s costs for each beneficiary may in fact decline a bit, but higher costs will come roaring back due to the unavoidable demographic shift in our country. Congress must lock in ways to cut waste now.

David B. Kendall is senior fellow for health and fiscal policy at Third Way, a moderate think tank in Washington, DC.

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Dear Reader,

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