Technological advances affect Medicare treatments

Source: The New York Times, October 2011

Medicare participants’ needs and wants have changed since the program came into law in 1965. Technological advances in medicine keep people alive much longer than ever before, often with considerable consequences. This leads to financial and human costs, with fee-for-service doctors and major pharmaceutical companies with the most to gain and individual people with the most to lose.
Scientific reports actually suggest dangers involved with much of the biomedical healthcare currently provided by Medicare, including feeding tubes, joint replacements and glycemic control for Type 2 diabetes. The author notes how the program seems to favor "heroic" biomedical alternatives such as surgery, diagnostic tests, expensive medications, and trips to the emergency room or the hospital; however, other basic services are rarely covered under Medicare, included safe long-term care for the frail or demented and home aides to help with daily needs.
This disconnect between what is needed and what is covered creates strains for the elderly, their adult children, and the Medicare trust fund. Though this current system seems unsustainable, the alternative is “the third rail of health care policy.” An Independent Payment Advisory Board will make recommendations to Medicare beginning in 2015, but these proposals are not binding. Medicare was not originally intended for long-term care, but today’s demographics and technology have changed the realities of our country’s elderly population.