Barbara B. Kennelly
NCPSSM President/CEO
When the Affordable Care Act became law last March, critics predicted doom for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare. They said that coverage would disappear, benefits would be cut, and death panels were on their way – none of which was true. But these lies scared many seniors about the law before it was explained to them.   Now, one year later, as the implementation of the law moves forward, Medicare is still sound – it’s stronger than it was before the law was passed – and millions of people with Medicare are benefitting from the law.   Medicare has gotten serious about cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse. Last year, the Obama administration announced it had recovered $4 billion in Medicare fraud. And the Affordable Care Act provides tools to crack down even further.   The Affordable Care Act specifically says that Medicare’s guaranteed benefits – hospital care, doctors’ services, home health services, drug coverage, and more – are protected.  Benefits are as good as ever – better, in fact. Prescription drugs are more affordable. This year the nearly 4 million beneficiaries who fall into the prescription drug “doughnut hole” will receive discounts on their drugs. These discounts will increase over the next few years until the doughnut hole is closed.   The Affordable Care Act encourages beneficiaries to get the care they need before they get sick. Now, the more than 44 million people with Medicare can get an annual wellness visit or needed screenings for diabetes or cancers without having to pay a co-pay. Early detection and treatment not only saves money but it saves lives.      The new law ends Medicare overpayments to insurance companies and rewards those that provide high quality care. But as these changes are phasing in starting this year, beneficiaries still have a wide range of plans to choose from.   States have new options to let seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes rather than having to move to a nursing home when they need help. And in the coming years, thanks to the new law, Medicare will lead the way to better coordinated patient care that should improve the quality of care while reducing costs.   But there is a threat out there. The new leadership of the House of Representatives has dedicated itself to repealing the Affordable Care Act. This would undo all of these improvements. Fraud-fighting tools, coverage in the doughnut hole, free preventive care, better coordinated care, and the chance to stay in your own home would all be gone.   Even worse is their alternative. Some proposals call for increasing out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries – something the Affordable Care Act does not do. Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has a more detailed plan he calls a “roadmap.” He calls for jaw-dropping cuts to the program, including raising the eligibility age to 69, slashing Medicare over time by 76 percent, and replacing the program with a cash voucher that would shift most of the cost of health care to individuals. This plan would be devastating both to current beneficiaries and to today’s working families who are counting on the Medicare program they pay into to protect them from unaffordable health care costs when they retire.   Representative Ryan leads the House committee responsible for producing a budget. But his roadmap leads us backwards to a period when our most vulnerable were forced to choose between health care costs and other necessities like food and shelter. We reject this vision, and we hope Congress does too. A year ago, we passed the Affordable Care Act to strengthen and improve Medicare for current and future generations. Let’s keep moving forward on that path.