Wednesday, July 29, 2009

AARP Members Air Doubts about Obamacare

Prelude: From the start, AARP has been in bed with Obama’s health care plans. The basic AARP belief is that we ought to expand Medicare to cover the 50 to 65 year old crowd, which now make up a big slice of AARP membership. But there’s a problem. Obama has vowed to cut $246 billion out of Medicare, and this will likely come out reducing access to high ticket items like cataract surgery, cardiac bypass, heart stents, and joint replacements – those medical procedures that keep middle-aged weekend warriors feeling and acting young. President Obama has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Here is Janet Adamy’s explanation of what’s going on in AARP in the July 29 Wall Street Blog.
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday sought to reassure senior citizens that squeezing billions of dollars from Medicare spending won't hurt their benefits. He also defended a proposal aimed at encouraging Americans to make plans in advance for end-of-life medical care.

Wringing savings from Medicare, the federal health-care plan for the elderly, is key to lawmakers' efforts to cover the roughly $1 trillion cost of expanding health insurance to nearly every American. The House version of health-care legislation.
Concerns from seniors about possible benefit cuts are forcing the big seniors' group AARP, which supports the House bill, to walk a tightrope as it tries to keep members on board.

Carolyn Engers from Joliet, Ill., told the president that she had just come from an AARP meeting where seniors said cuts to Medicare spending rank as one of their top concerns. "Even if I decide when I'm 80 that I want a hip replacement, am I going to be able to get that?" she asked.

Mr. Obama said the Medicare cuts will be targeted at wasteful spending, such as overpayments to insurance companies that participate in private Medicare plans, as well as unnecessary hospital readmissions.

"Nobody is talking about cutting Medicare benefits," Mr. Obama said.

But taking such steps is easier said than done, and faces resistance from the powerful insurers' lobby. In addition, some analysts say that reducing reimbursements may drive doctors out of the Medicare program and reduce access to services.

"Cuts to providers, if not well-designed, can have a negative impact on seniors if it means those providers may not accept Medicare patients," said Jack Hoadley, a research professor at the health-policy institute at Georgetown University. Whether that happens will depend on how the final bill is executed, he said.

AARP has been a vocal supporter of President Obama's push for a health-care overhaul, and the White House has cited the group's endorsement as a milestone.
The proposals in Congress contain several perks for seniors. Lawmakers plan to help close a gap in the Medicare prescription-drug benefit that forces seniors to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket if the cost of their drugs falls between $2,700 and $6,154 a year.

The health bills also would bar insurance companies from denying people insurance if they have a pre-existing condition, and curb insurers' ability to charge older Americans more for coverage. Those represent big improvements for Americans ages 50 to 64, who aren't old enough to qualify for Medicare and face high prices and heavy restrictions when they try to buy insurance on their own.

The group faced stiff resistance from members concerned about changes in their insurance when it supported President Bill Clinton's 1993-94 effort to overhaul health care, and it suffered an embarrassing rebellion from seniors when it supported a plan to expand catastrophic health-insurance coverage in the late 1980s.
That has prompted AARP to invest more this time in explaining the legislation early on to its 40 million members, said John Rother, executive vice president of policy and strategy.

Also at Tuesday's event, President Obama defended a proposal in the House health bill to provide Americans with end-of-life planning consultations and other provisions aimed, in part, at reducing the cost of caring for people near death. Republicans call the proposal evidence that the government wants to interfere with personal medical decisions.

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