Somehow, I knew this would happen. I should have seen it coming. Just my luck.
Almost simultaneous with the arrival of a Medicare card in my mailbox was word that some physicians no longer wish to participate in the federal government's health care program for seniors.
Those of us who turned 65 this year have waited patiently for this moment to arrive. For years we've heard wonderful stories of quality medical treatment through Medicare and we have been eager to join the bandwagon. It was about the only thing we had to herald yet another birthday.
Now, we hear that it may not happen, according to recent news reports. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed in a recent series that not only are fewer and fewer Georgia physicians willing to take on new Medicare patients, but also that the state is facing an overall doctor shortage. National news outlets tell us of similar news affecting seniors in other states.
Certainly that is disconcerting for those of us who have been saving up all these expected surgeries -- a host of bad knees, but also a few hips, shoulders and other limbs -- until we could be assured Medicare would cover them. We have expected that doctors everywhere would gladly accept Medicare's reimbursement for the services rendered -- "fee for service" is the proper term.
If the recent news reports of a dwindling Medicare program are true, it goes against the grain of what I hear dozens of times a day via the airwaves. I have just noted for the first time a television ad promoting a particular brand of metal knees aimed at -- who else? you guessed it! -- Medicare recipients. We are barraged daily with information (and, likely, just as much misinformation) about Medicare supplements. Surely this largesse of ad spending by Humana and United Healthcare is keeping several networks afloat. I wonder why these smart companies would spend so much on a program whose best days are behind it? Does anyone else spot a paradox here?
In this presidential election season, Medicare has been under a scrutiny harsher than ever before. It's as much on the table as Iran and Syria, tax reform and the need for the U.S. to become less dependent on foreign oil. (Immigration reform faded quicker than last evening's sunset. May it permanently rest in peace.)
Prominent on the campaign landscape is Republican nominee Mitt Romney's claim that President Obama has already sliced $716 billion from the Medicare budget to help pay for so-called "Obamacare." Romney charges that the cuts will hurt current Medicare beneficiaries, but most fact-check organizations say that those funds would come from the pool of money for providers, which could include physicians, hospitals and insurance companies.
I would not lose any sleep over cuts to insurance companies, but certainly I would not favor cuts to physicians and hospitals at this point -- i.e. my doctors and hospitals. (We all have our favorites in this fight.)
Amid the talk of Medicare reductions is the haunting notion of "death panels" that could decide which seniors are worth saving.
Nobody ever said getting old was any fun.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.