5 steps to bipartisan cuts in Medicare – and the deficit

Despite the partisan rancor over health care, both parties have a stake in reducing health-care costs.

Medicare, as the single greatest contributor to long-term deficits, is the obvious place to focus. A third of health-care dollars are wasted on care that does nothing to improve patients’ health. If Democrats and Republicans cooperate on waste-cutting ideas – many of which are backed by President Obama – both parties stand to gain.

For Democrats, reducing waste means less pressure to cut benefits. For Republicans, lower costs could avoid tax increases needed to cover extra spending as more baby boomers retire. Meanwhile, Medicare could save $370 billion over 10 years – a third of the deficit reduction needed to suspend draconian budget cuts under the “sequester.”

Here are five ways Congress should act.

1. Prevent unnecessary trips to the hospital

Carolyn Kaster/AP/file
President Obama acknowledges House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio at the White House, where the president hosted a bipartisan meeting of congressional leaders to discuss the deficit and economy on Nov. 16, 2012. Op-ed contributor David B. Kendall writes that cutting Medicare waste 'could save $370 billion over 10 years – a third of the deficit reduction needed to suspend draconian budget cuts under the “sequester." '

Medicare patients could avoid 3 of every 5 trips to the emergency room if they simply got better routine care. Today, doctors receive little compensation for helping patients avoid the hospital. Instead, Medicare should pay doctors to create a “medical home” – a warm and supportive team of health professionals led by a doctor who watches over patients’ health using the latest communication and information technology.

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