I-Team: Medicare Focus of Political Ads - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Medicare Focus of Political Ads

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LAS VEGAS -- In political speeches around the country, Republicans and Democrats are promising that their party will save Medicare.

But to the doctors and professionals at University Medical Center, the Las Vegas valley's sole public hospital, how taxpayers pay for Medicare greatly affects how much the medical professionals can take care of sick and injured senior citizens.

Medicare is a public health insurance plan for senior citizens age 65 and older, and for those with certain medical conditions. For those who are insured through Medicare, a lot of changes are expected after election day

The one person in Las Vegas watching those changes with the most caution is UMC CEO Brian Brannman.

He rose up the ranks running Navy medical centers.

Brannman said he believes Nevada needs to have an honest debate about how this community pays for medical care.

"How do you justify that you've got folks with tremendous excess wealth driving around in $200,000 cars and you're offended that we're trying to spend a little bit of money to keep somebody at a basic standard of living?" he said.

Democrats support moving money out of Medicare Advantage, a program that allows seniors the option to contract through a private insurer, such as Humana or Anthem, for their care. The federal government then pays the insurance companies. The move to abolish the program is the target of several political ads.

One political ad said: "A trillion dollars. That's how much Shelley Berkley voted to cut Medicare."

But Brannman said Medicare Advantage never helped patients as much as it helped insurance company increase their profits.

"There's a great incentive for the insurance companies, who are sort of the underwriters of this, to negotiate better reimbursement rates for their behalf," Brannman said.

Hardly a day passes with a politician not making sweeping claims about Medicare.

"We're going to reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul the right way, by reducing the cost of health care, not by shifting it on to seniors," President Barack Obama said.

But Sen. Dean Heller disagreed: "You're going to have this decision on your behalf by some government bureaucrat as to whether you can receive the treatment you deserve or that you need, so that's un-American as far as I'm concerned and that's why I believe this legislation should be repealed and replaced with free market ideas."

Brannman said some of what's being said is scaring people more than informing them.

"You've got a group of health care professionals, folks who are experienced in the delivery of care, that are really measuring: What is the care you intend to provide against what does the evidence say?" he said. "What are the industry standards in the care?"

"It's not really the characterization of the death panel where you've got somebody sitting down deciding, ‘OK, Brian Brannman, you get no liver transplant, sorry.'"

Perhaps more alarming for UMC is that they see no clear long-term plan that fixes Medicare without finding more federal money or cutting benefits.

"We already absorb substantial amount of uncompensated care in the neighborhood of a couple hundred million dollars," he said. "To the extent that you're reimbursing me less than (at) cost, or right at the margin, then it makes it difficult to offset the care we provide to people who don't pay us at all."

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