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Column: The real health care fight is coming, and it’s about seniors’ access

Photo by Dana Neely/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller is here to provide the answers you need on aging and retirement. His weekly column, “Ask Phil,” aims to help older Americans and their families by answering their health care and financial questions. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.

Many older Americans will need some type of extended care as they age. It may come in a nursing center or at home. Some individuals, through excellent lifestyle choices, inherited genetic traits and not a little bit of luck, may be able to minimize or even avoid such episodes. But there are so many aging people in the country today that no amount of healthful living will prevent enormous increases in demand for older-age caregiving.

This inevitability has been known for decades, ever since the size of the baby boom generation became clear. Such are the long-term implications of demographics. Yet here we are, faced with another aging “crisis” – an elephant that is not only in the room today but took up residence decades ago.

Medicare and Medicaid are the two safety-net programs we now have to provide the care we will need. Unless you’ve been living in an unwired biosphere, you might have noticed that these programs are the subject of many Republican proposals that would dramatically change them. The common theme of these proposals is a big cut in funding, and thus care, in comparison with current program rules and government spending commitments.

READ MORE: The fight over Obamacare is over — for now. What does that mean for seniors?

If you scratch the surface, you will not find much knowledge in many of these proposals about the realities of an aging population’s future health care needs.

But to be fair, Republicans are admitting one very compelling point that many Democrats have been politically hampered from acknowledging: As things presently stand, we cannot afford to pay for all the care that older Americans will need. Budgets at the federal and state levels will not be able to foot this health care bill, and Lord knows that nearly all of us can’t afford to pay for it out of our own pockets.

The Republicans’ message has been lost in the meanness of many of their proposals. They have forfeited any claim to the fiscal high ground with plans that would package steep health care cuts for most Americans with tax cuts for people who are already rich by nearly anyone’s standards.

Faced with this stand-off, one can only applaud nascent efforts by some brave Republicans and Democrats to actually begin working together. Health care reforms cannot survive without bipartisanship, and for bipartisanship to work, the parties must be willing to compromise. We are nowhere near this point today, but we need to get there, and soon.

Older citizens and their families need to be vigilant about efforts to raise the price of their health care, restrict their access to care or deny it to them altogether.

In the meantime, older citizens and their families need to be vigilant about efforts to raise the price of their health care, restrict their access to care or deny it to them altogether. Today, I would like to draw your attention to three such efforts: the use by hospitals of so-called observational stays, the desire by the nursing home industry to deny…

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