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Medicare

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The increasing number of people without insurance -- an estimated 47 million in 2008 -- and growing health care costs are fostering more interest in and movement toward overhaul of the health care system. At the national level and state levels, dozens of proposals are on the table, offered by candidates, businesses, consumer advocates and many others. The proposals range from national health insurance modeled on Medicare to private market options based on tax breaks. Many policy analysts expect substantial movement on the issue in 2009.

Picture of Megan Chao

About 70 percent of the elderly will require some type of long-term care services during their lifetimes, and more than 40 percent will need nursing home care. At any given time, about 1.5 million people live in one of the nation's 15,000 nursing homes. Nursing homes are heavily regulated by the federal and state governments, which pay for about two-thirds of all residents through the Medicaid and, to a lesser extent, Medicare programs (pricetag: $75 billion a year.) Assisted living, however, is governed by different rules in each state and is generally paid for with private dollars.

Picture of Megan Chao

Whether they involve wrong-site surgeries, poor physician handwriting or prescription dose miscalculations, medical errors are rampant in America’s health care system. Following up on its landmark 1999 study,“To Err is Human,” the Institute of Medicine in 2006 found that a hospital patient is the victim of a medical error every single day he or she is hospitalized.

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

In 2002, health care costs, particularly for cancer treatments, were soaring for seniors in some Medicare HMOs. After negative publicity about one HMO's drastic increase in chemotherapy copayments, the HMO agreed to reduce the cost to make it more affordable for patients.

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