Archive for November 5, 2009

AARP Endorses “Affordable Health Care for America Act”

 “As members of the House gear up for this historic vote, they will hear from older Americans”

Hartford, CT—Today AARP announced its endorsement of the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962) and the accompanying Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act (H.R. 3961).  The Association’s support follows nearly two years of work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to craft a health care reform plan that meets the needs of AARP’s nearly 40 million members and all older Americans.  Among those needs are reforms that strictly curb insurance companies’ discrimination against older Americans and Medicare improvements that strengthen benefits while protecting the program for future generations.

“For more than two years, AARP has been involved in the debate over health reform with the twin goals of making coverage affordable to our younger members and protecting Medicare for seniors,” said AARP Connecticut Director Brenda Kelley.  “We have thoroughly read the Affordable Health Care for America Act and can say with confidence that it meets those goals with improved benefits for people in Medicare and needed health insurance market reforms to help ensure every American can purchase affordable health coverage.”

Today’s endorsement marks the first time in this legislative battle that AARP has put its full weight behind a comprehensive health care reform package.  In the coming days, AARP will be educating its members about the health care reform package through its publications, paid advertising and more than five million calls and e-mails to its grassroots activists.

“As members of the House gear up for this historic vote, they will hear from older Americans,” Kelley said.  “Our members have told us loud and clear that they want common sense reforms that will protect Medicare for them and future generations, and ensure all Americans have access to affordable, quality health care choices.”

The Affordable Health Care for America Act and the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act contain critical components AARP has been fighting for on behalf of its members and all older Americans to improve health care for them and their families.  They include:

  • Protecting and strengthening Medicare for today’s seniors and future generations of retirees;
  • Ensuring seniors can see the doctor of their choice or find a doctor if they need one by improving Medicare’s payments to doctors;
  • Lowering drug costs for seniors by closing the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” and allowing the government to negotiate with drug makers for lower drug prices;
  • Taking steps to reduce waste, fraud, abuse and inefficiency in the Medicare program;
  • Requiring Medicare and insurance companies to provide for important preventive services like screenings for diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis free of charge;
  • Preventing insurers from denying you affordable coverage because of your age;
  • Preventing insurance companies from denying you coverage if you have a pre-existing condition or dropping your coverage if you get sick;
  • Limiting how much your insurance company can make you pay out-of-pocket;
  • Providing affordable health insurance options for those who don’t have insurance; and
  • Providing benefits to help seniors and people with disabilities live in their own homes and communities by establishing the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program. 

The bill also includes important new provisions that greatly improve funding and access to current and new health care programs for citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Territories, an issue that is of particular interest to Hispanic leaders and residents in Connecticut.

Kelley added: “We cannot continue to let insurers price older Americans out of the market, just as we cannot stand idle while millions of seniors are forced to choose between their groceries and their prescriptions.  AARP is proud to endorse the Affordable Health Care for America Act and the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act, and we urge members of the House to pass this critical package in the coming days to help fix our broken health care system.”

November 5, 2009 at 6:22 pm Leave a comment

Kaiser Family Foundation Ad Audit: Message Sacrifices Truth About Health Bills And Medicare

AD TITLE: “Greatest Generation

SPONSOR: The 60 Plus Association

SUMMARY: A conservative advocacy group uses testimony from sympathetic older Americans to warn that a health care overhaul would impair Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly. The ad says older Americans should be shielded from spending cuts because of their great sacrifices for the country. But it’s truth that’s sacrificed here: the ad exaggerates the impact of proposed Medicare cuts and ignores some improvements in Medicare benefits included in the main Democratic bills before Congress.

BACKGROUND: The 60 Plus Association, a nonprofit advocacy group that bills itself as a conservative counterweight to AARP, favors lower taxes and less government. The group says it is has purchased $2 million in airtime in eight states that are homes to key senators: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The ads come in 30-second and 60-second versions.

POLITICS: The ad is part of a broader effort to increase concerns among older Americans about pending health care legislation. The insurance industry’s main lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, made a similar argument in ads last month. Both AHIP and 60 Plus are upset about proposals to create government-run insurance that would compete with private companies in selling coverage to people under age 65. Since many surveys show substantial support for the public option, however, the opponents are focusing on something else: The bills’ potential impact on the popular Medicare program.

ACCURACY: The health bills would reduce Medicare spending, but it’s highly unlikely medical care for the elderly would suffer, many health analysts say. “This ad is clearly intended to frighten people with a great deal of misinformation,” says Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a Connecticut-based nonprofit that helps people secure Medicare benefits.

Under the Senate Finance Committee bill, Medicare spending, on net, would be $379 billion less over a decade, or about 5 percent of program expenditures, than under current law. In both that bill and the House proposal, a big chunk of the cuts would involve Medicare Advantage plans that are run by private insurers and often provide additional benefits beyond what traditional fee-for-service Medicare offers. The Finance bill targets Medicare Advantage for $117 billion in cutbacks over a decade; the House bill, $170 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress is eyeing Medicare Advantage plans largely because they spend an average of about 14 percent more on their members than traditional Medicare spends on its beneficiaries. If the cuts are enacted, the number of Medicare Advantage plans might decline. In addition, those that survive might pare back some of the extra benefits they offer, such as low or zero monthly premiums, dental care and free gym memberships. But no one would be denied basic Medicare benefits.

On the other hand, not all the proposed reductions would be painless – especially for the providers who would bear the brunt of other Medicare cuts. Overall, though, the cuts would be substantially less than the reductions approved by Congress in 1997 to balance the federal budget deficit, according to Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is a part of the foundation.) Congress ended up restoring some of that money a few years later. Lawmakers were worried some of the reductions, including those for skilled nursing facilities, were too severe. “It’s hard to anticipate changes in the health care system,” Neuman says. “Ongoing tweaks may be necessary.”

The ad’s warning about the rationing of “potentially life-saving drugs” lacks support. The 60 Plus Association tries to back up this claim by citing a few news stories about patients in England and Canada denied drugs by government insurers. But far from restricting access to drugs, “ironically, there are enhancements to the Medicare drug benefits” in the health overhaul bills, says Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a Washington research group.

The bills being debated would eliminate co-payments for preventive services. In addition, the House bill would provide a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs purchased when beneficiaries hit the coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole,” and it would gradually eliminate the gap. The Senate Finance bill would not close the doughnut hole, but it would provide the discount, which was negotiated with the Obama administration and the pharmaceutical lobby earlier this year. The House bill also would require Medicare to cover immunosuppressive drugs for as long as kidney transplant recipients need them, rather than for the current 36 months.

Overall the ad’s argument is built on a logical inconsistency: It raises the specter of “government-run health care” to increase concerns among both young and old. But at the same time it extols Medicare – which is government-run health care for people 65 and older.

Source: Kaiser Health News, Jordan Rau, KHN Staff Writer

November 5, 2009 at 3:41 pm Leave a comment


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