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How will debt-ceiling deal affect Medicare for patients, doctors?



At least one sector of the economy seems to have boycotted the national sigh of relief that accompanied the 11th-hour debt deal this week. With unspecified cuts to Medicare looming, most doctors and hospital employees say they'll keep holding their breath. While the initial deal doesn't include any immediate cuts to popular entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, healthcare analysts say the 12-member "super committee" charged with slashing federal spending by $1.5 trillion could make significant changes to the programs. Those changes could be wide-ranging, including an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a jump in co-pays and deductibles. State Medicaid mandates could be relaxed, achieving savings by lowering benefits to low-income individuals. Even some elements of the healthcare reform law could be considered. Other prime targets for Medicare could include cuts to Medigap insurance, which would limit supplemental insurance plans for the elderly, and the implementation of a policy requiring high-earning seniors to pay higher premiums for their plans. Such measures were considered by both sides of the aisle during this summer's negotiations and are likely to be on the table again


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