Health Care Plays Big Role In Debt Reduction

Originally published on April 14, 2011 10:39 am
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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And we're joined now by NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner. Julie, hi.

JULIE ROVNER: Hi.

BLOCK: And as we've heard over and over, one of the biggest drivers of the problems with the federal deficit and debt is health care spending. The president today said that the health care law passed last year already addresses this problem. But he did add even more proposed savings. Let's take a listen.

BARACK OBAMA: Our approach lowers the government's health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.

BLOCK: Julie, does that approach that he's talking about, in fact, reduce the cost of health care itself?

ROVNER: Of course, if those payments go down too much, you run the risk of doctors and others not wanting to treat seniors. They're not getting paid enough. So that's a pretty delicate balance.

BLOCK: Some things there that - a lot of question marks around. Are there things in this plan that are a surer bet in terms of reducing costs?

ROVNER: The idea is to spread best practices, which can be as simple as making sure everyone washes their hand, to having surgical checklists, to having barcodes on medicines. And that would reduce these kinds of complications. And if the plan works as anticipated, it could save the health care system as much as $35 billion over the next three years, including $10 billion for Medicare. So that's actually savings, money not spent.

BLOCK: Julie, let's move on to one point about the Medicare plan from the Republican side, from Congressman Paul Ryan. He wants to effectively privatize Medicare and we talked about that yesterday on the program with Republican Congressman Tom Price. Here's part of what he said about how the Republican plan envisions health care for seniors.

TOM PRICE: We would provide for them an opportunity to access a health care coverage system that is exactly like that that members of Congress have.

BLOCK: So, Julie, your task is to keep Mr. Schaible there from eating his hat and his boots. Was Congressman Price right that the new vision for Medicare from the Republicans offers seniors exactly the same health care coverage system as members of Congress?

ROVNER: So, in essence, it would save the government money by shifting it to the seniors. And every year that amount of money would buy less and less insurance. So seniors would pay more and more. And that's not me saying that, that's the Congressional Budget Office.

BLOCK: So Bob Schaible can keep his hat and his boots on. Julie, thanks so much.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Julie Rovner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.