Forum Urges Medicare Reform To Emphasize Health Promotion

June 18, 1998

Successful aging in America will be aided by the expanded ability of Medicare to provide coverage for preventive services and incentives for wellness promotion. This was the major message conveyed at a forum, The Role of Medicare in Succcessful Aging, sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Health, The Gerontological Society of America and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation held today in Washington, D.C.

The forum featured remarks by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), former Acting Assistant Secretary for Aging in the Clinton Administration Dr. Robyn Stone, as well as Drs. John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn, authors of the critically acclaimed best-seller, Successful Aging.

Sen. Reed, who serves on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, noted that the Bi-Partisan Commission on the Future of Medicare would be submitting its final report in less than nine months. "Therefore, this is a critically important time to make the case that expanded Medicare coverage for prevention programs and wellness promotion is a sound investment for the future of Medicare, so it may be included as part of the Commission's recommendations."

Dr. Rowe , President of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said that Medicare presently only provides coverage for a handful of preventive tests, including mammograms and prostate screening, yet "these are about early detection of disease, not prevention or health promotion."

Rowe called on Medicare to provide incentives in the form of reduced premiums for individuals who undertake or maintain health lifestyle behaviors such as exercise, weight loss and improved diet.

Dr. Kahn, Professor Emeritus of psychology and public health at the University of Michigan, observed that more Medicare emphasis on prevention could contribute to genuine cost containment in future years. He said, "By emphasizing the importance of preventive measures and providing instruction, training, and monitoring facilities for maintaining physical function and preventing major illness and disability, we could reduce the need for Medicare to pay for more expensive medical procedures for beneficiaries who become sick."

Dr. Stone, who presently serves as Executive Director of the International Longevity Center, added that it is also important to consider secondary prevention for Medicare beneficiaries who are chronically disabled. Maintenance rehabilitation, for example, can help improve functioning and mitigate costly hospitalizations and even premature institutionalization.

In opening remarks, Jessie C. Gruman, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Health, noted, "Medicare has played a key role in successful aging for a generation of seniors, but mostly through the medical model approach. It is obvious that Medicare can do more and contribute to seniors living a healthier and more successful life. The combination of greater personal responsibility for the state of one's health and a more responsive Medicare providing coverage and incentives for those seniors who show this responsibility could make a profound change in future health policy. It is an idea worth advancing as part of short and long term Medicare reform."


The book, Successful Aging, summarizes 10 years of interdisciplinary research by a network of 16 scientists funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Dr. Rowe was chair of the network and Dr. Kahn, one of the participating researchers.

Center for Advancing Health

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