Medicare emerging as prime target in U.S. “fiscal cliff” talks

Thursday, December 6, 2012
By Paul Martin

By David Morgan
Wed Dec 5, 2012

(Reuters) – With rival Democratic and Republican deficit plans increasingly focused on Medicare, experts say the two sides could be edging toward common ground on important changes to the popular health insurance program for seniors and the disabled.

None of the changes are assured and any specific decisions would come only after resolution of the “fiscal cliff,” the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that’s driving the discussion.

But several ideas that have circulated among policymakers for years are frequently mentioned as the parties get more serious, and ever more specific, about how to control the exploding costs of so-called entitlement programs including Medicare.

The proposals most often discussed that would directly affect Medicare’s 52 million beneficiaries are more means-testing, meaning higher costs for wealthier retirees, and raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.

Other proposals on the table would reduce payments for hospitals, nursing homes, drug makers, insurers and physicians.

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