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From the monthly archives: July 2009

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'July 2009'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Happy Birthday Medicare

44 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating Medicare.  Given the current debate about system-wide health care reform and the role Medicare will play, now is the perfect time to reflect on the programs' success in keeping millions of seniors and the disabled healthy.   Our policy analysts have prepared The Future of Medicare: Demographics vs the Cost of Health Care, which is recommended reading for anyone keeping up with this health care debate.  Here are two other Medicare articles we highly recommend you read as we celebrate this anniversary.  First, this post at the Wonk Room and then Marie Cocco's piece at Truthdig.  We loved "The Marvel That Is Medicare" so much that we're providing a long excerpt here:
Happy Birthday, Medicare. It's a fine time-perfect, in fact-to celebrate the government-run, taxpayer-supported colossus in the American health care system that turns 44 this week. Medicare has done all it was supposed to do, and more.   It thrives despite apocalyptic warnings from its original opponents that "socialized medicine" would hamper doctors, hospitals, patients-perhaps even doom the entire American health care system. Medicare is exceedingly popular and remarkably well-functioning despite its current critics' claims that it is singularly wasteful, out of control in some never-specified way or, at the very least, holds the potential to bankrupt us all in the next generation. Medicare is where political posturing runs headlong into historical truth: It is, along with Social Security, the most successful government program-other than its unrivaled military-that the United States has ever created.  And it has delivered for elderly people what President Barack Obama and at least some Democrats say they want to deliver for the rest of us: universal coverage ensuring that people with medical problems will not become impoverished by their illness, with patients offered a guaranteed set of services and a choice of private doctors, hospitals and other practitioners when they need treatment. "Medicare was a comprehensive-and comprehensible-program, available throughout the country and with a core set of benefits," says Judith Stein, director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. In other words, it delivers the opposite of what the private insurance industry has been providing. And it is doing so with a better track record of controlling costs. Beginning in 1997, the growth in Medicare's cost per beneficiary has been slower than the cost escalation in coverage delivered by private insurers. Between 2002 and 2006, for example, Medicare's cost per beneficiary rose 5.4 percent, while per capita costs in private insurance rose 7.7 percent, according to MedPAC, an independent agency charged with advising Congress on Medicare issues.  
Medicare is an American success story which can serve both as a model and as a tool for system wide health care reform.  However, we must be sure reform remains the goal not just cutting Medicare benefits to foot the health care reform bill.

When Fiction Replaces Facts in the Health care/Medicare Debate

One caller's question yesterday in the AARP/Obama Town Hall meeting really jumped out at came from Mary in North Carolina: 
"I have heard lots of rumors going around about this new plan, and I hope that the people that are going to vote on this is going to read every single page there. I have been told there is a clause in there that everyone that's Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die. This bothers me greatly and I'd like for you to promise me that this is not in this bill."
Of course it's not...because there is no such clause.  It doesn't exist.  It's fiction.  But that doesn't stop some opponents of health care reform from repeating such things on conservative radio and on the internet in viral email campaigns designed to misinform and scare seniors. Maybe you've already seen this email:
On page 425 it says in black and white that EVERYONE on Social Security, (will include all Senior Citizens and SSI people) will go to MANDATORY counseling every 5 years to learn and to choose from ways to end your suffering (and your life).  Health care will be denied based on age.  500 Billion will be cut from Seniors healthcare.   The only way for that to happen is to drastically cut health care, the oldest and the sickest will be cut first.   Paying for your own care will not be an option.   Now, CALL YOUR PEOPLE IN WASHINGTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Tell them to read page 425 if they don't read anything else.  Surely some of them have parents.
OR even this version:           
"ON PAGE 425 OF OBAMA'S HEALTH CARE BILL, the Federal Government will require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every 5 years with the objective being that they will explain to them just how to end their own life earlier. Yes...They are going to push SUICIDE to cut medicare spending!" 
The St. Petersburg Times PolitiFact describes who's behind this campaign and how it continues to victimize seniors.  The Orlando Sentinel also provides details on what's actually on page 425 in the House bill in their editorial "Health Reform Hooey".    As the President described yesterday, what the House has proposed (you can read page 425 for yourself here ) is to pay doctors for any end-of-life consultations they might--not must--provide their patients. Only the most cynical and opportunistic critics could turn that into pushing suicide for seniors.  We know America's seniors are worried about what health care reform could mean for them.  We too are concerned that current efforts by blue dog Democrats and conservatives in Congress have shifted the focus away from meaningful reforms to solely cutting Medicare's bottom line, meaning benefit cuts.  These so-called "fiscal hawks" seem to have forgotten that, according to the CBO, if every entitlement in the federal budget were repealed outright - eliminating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other critical programs - but nothing were done to slow the growth in health care costs overall, we would still find ourselves spending almost 70 percent of the nation's wealth on health care by 2082.  This is why health care reform is vital to Americans of all ages. Cost containment, health care efficiencies and other complicated reform issues certainly aren't as inflammatory as "pushing senior suicide" but guess what...these are the real issues affecting seniors in this healthcare reform debate.  These are the issues seniors need to talk about and Congress and the White House need to listen.

Social Security and the Jacksons

Chances are Katherine Jackson never imagined Social Security would be her only source of income.  But truth be told...that's probably the case for countless other Americans, rich and poor, who face retirement in a much different fiscal situation then they had dreamed.  That's why these short references  buried in all the recent coverage of Michael Jackson's death really caught our attention:
"Lawyers for the estate wrote: ‘We are informed that Mrs. Jackson was also financially dependent upon Michael Jackson and that other than extremely modest social security benefits, Mrs. Jackson has no independent means of support.'... Jackson's children will receive Social Security benefits, which have been applied for but payments have not yet started. Their monthly stipends from the estate may be reduced, depending on much money they receive from Social Security, the filings state." You can think what you want about how the Jackson's ended up in this situation but regardless, it's a reminder of the role that Social Security plays in the lives of Americans who have the rug pulled out from under them and face a loss of income through retirement, disability or the death of a parent.  At the end of 2007, nearly 50 million people were receiving approximately $585 billion in Social Security benefits: 34 million retired workers and their dependents, 6 million survivors of deceased workers, and 9 million disabled workers and their families. During the year, an estimated 163 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.   If you pay in to Social Security you have a right to that benefit, rich or poor.  Social Security isn't welfare it's a benefit that Americans work to earn...a benefit that's there, even if you don't think you'll ever need it.

"MedPac on Steroids" or Permanent Entitlement Commission?

For many older Americans, the give and take necessary to pass meaningful and successful health care reform makes sense. That's why we here at the National Committee have worked hard to mobilize their support for health care reform proposals that would improve efficiency and care for millions of Medicare beneficiaries while also providing savings for system-wide health care reform efforts. However, today we are opposing any effort to transfer Congress' authority to manage Medicare to an appointed Commission charged primarily with cutting costs.   The Independent Medicare Advisory Council proposal being considered in the House includes many of the same flawed approaches seen in entitlement reform commission plans offered in the past, including; fast-tracked legislation which prohibits amendments and requires an up or down vote, statutory spending caps and sequestration of funding.  These provisions put spending cuts as the Medicare commission's top priority.  That leaves little room for concerns about access to services or affordability, and could ultimately lead to a serious erosion of the benefits relied upon by millions of seniors and the disabled.   Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, sent this letter  to Congress and the White House laying out our objections to the creations of a permanent Medicare Commission: 
"As the President himself has said, America does not face an entitlement crisis, we face a health care crisis.  In light of this, proposals that single out Medicare for aggressive cost cutting are not only unwise but patently unfair.  We believe that it is an imperative of health reform that cost growth throughout the entire health care system be addressed, not simply in the Medicare program.  Submitting major changes to such an important program on a fast track through Congress with little opportunity for amendment runs counter to the Administration's call for transparency and participation by the American public in policy decisions. Enacting procedures to push through changes of this importance to millions of Americans, especially senior Americans, ultimately disenfranchises the public and hurts the political process."    
Medicare reforms can and should be a part of the national health care transformation.   However, analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has shown that Medicare spending is only a portion of the cost growth trend seen system-wide; underlining the need to control the growth trend throughout the entire health care system, not simply in the Medicare program.  This Medicare Advisory Council proposal shifts the focus away from system-wide reforms in favor of cutting Medicare to reduce the cost of health care reform.       A copy of the National Committee's letter to Congress opposing the creation of a permanent Medicare commission is available on our website.

Medicare Reforms play Critical Role in Congressional Health Care Proposal

"This Health care reform proposal is a pivotal step in Medicare reform. We now have a House bill which includes some important changes in Medicare to help control runaway health care costs for millions of seniors.  Closing the Part D doughnut hole, improving low-income coverage and eliminating wasteful subsidies to private Medicare Advantage insurers are all necessary steps towards meaningful reform. But there is still more work to be done on this bill and we must ensure that these basic improvements do not get traded away in the quest for even more savings." Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

The House bill is called America's Affordable Health Choices Act and you can see it here.

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