You may have noticed that the folks who shout down the speakers at those health-care town hall meetings seem to be pretty old (photo below). The vast majority look as if they’re on Medicare. So why are they screaming about government “interference” in their health insurance? My guess is that someone has convinced them that President Obama is going to cut their benefits.
As a Medicare recipient myself, I must admit the thought had crossed my mind. Could the government be contemplating cuts in my benefits – higher co-pays at the drug store perhaps – to fund coverage for those 50 million Americans who have no health insurance? Not that the thought turned me against health care reform. I was prepared to make a sacrifice, if it wasn’t too costly, in order to help fellow-citizens who were in danger of dying from some dread disease. But I was relieved to get an email message from the AARP yesterday reassuring me that none of the health care reform proposals currently under consideration includes reductions in my Medicare benefits. In fact, the planned reform includes such good ideas as closing the infamous “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription program. Here’s an excerpt from the AARP message:
The White House and major U.S. drug manufacturers have agreed that if health reform is adopted, drugmakers will voluntarily cut in half the cost of name-brand drugs provided for those who fall into the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” or coverage gap. Over time, the bills before Congress would close the “doughnut hole” entirely.
And that’s not all. According to the AARP:
Both the Senate Finance Committee and House “Tri-Committee” plans eliminate Medicare copayments and deductibles you currently pay for preventive care services, such as cancer screenings. And current versions of health reform legislation require your health insurer to pay you back if they spend less than 85 percent of premium dollars on the care of patients – in other words, if their overhead and profit costs exceed 15 percent.
So what are the “Medicare cuts” referred to by opponents of health reform? AARP identified such savings as reduced subsidies to some private insurance companies that provide care under the Medicare name. “These plans currently get paid extra to provide the same care as traditional Medicare provides,” the AARP message stated. “That’s a fact that health-reform opponents never mention.”
According to the AARP message:
Other legislative proposals target one of the areas of Medicare most prone to abuse – payments for medical equipment. Recently, an enterprising TV journalist found that one of these companies had charged Medicare $1,200 for a wheelchair – but managed to buy the same kind of wheelchair from the same company for $349. The bills also allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription-drug prices, like the Veterans’ Administration does now.
Targeted savings like these are very important. They make it possible to protect Medicare’s solvency over the long term. We all realize that Medicare urgently needs help to remain strong. Suppose you’re 65 today – do you want Medicare to be stable and capable of providing for your care when you are 75? At AARP, we want to ensure Medicare remains strong for you and for future generations.
I am prepared to trust AARP on this. No one would accuse that organization, which represents Americans over the age of 55, of being a Socialist front. So the next time you hear anyone suggest that Medicare benefits might be sacrificed to provide insurance for a bunch of “welfare queens,” you can feel comfortable setting the record straight.