Congress will soon debate whether to means-test the proposed Medicare drug benefit -- and perhaps the entire Medicare program. The cost of the new benefit, $400 billion over 10 years, highlights the enormous financial burden the 75 million baby boomers will soon place on government and society as they retire. With the budget deficit soaring into the trillions, the problem is acute. The debate is really about choices: preserving government medical benefits by having the wealthy pay more, or scaling back benefits to maintain them for all. It's a tough decision, but a realistic one.
It's a decision that Corporate America has already made. Many businesses are already charging higher-paid employees up to twice as much for their health care as lower-paid workers. And while most companies are trimming back some coverage, by and large they are choosing means testing for health services over drastic cutbacks of benefits.
Companies are applying a sliding-scale approach to premium payments, annual deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximum caps on medical expenses. That's fair, and it's better than the alternative -- cutting benefits to all. There is no denying the sticker shock spreading through Corporate America as employees open their company health plans for 2004. It is similar to the shock reverberating in Washington over Medicare. Choices have to be made. The better choice for Congress is to ask those who can to pay more to help provide for everyone, including those who can't.