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Seniors Fear Health Care Remake Will Hurt Medicare

Seniors Fear Health Care Remake Will Hurt Medicare

Associated Press / AP Online

March 31, 2010

WASHINGTON – Seniors aren’t breaking out the champagne for President Barack Obama’s health care law, and for good reason. While Democrats hail the overhaul as their greatest health care achievement since Medicare, seniors fear it’s a raid on that same giant health care program – a bedrock of retirement security – in order to pay for covering younger, uninsured workers and their families. There’s no doubt that broad cuts in projected Medicare payments to insurance plans, hospitals, nursing homes and other service providers will sting. What hasn’t sunk in yet is that the new law also improves the lot of many Medicare beneficiaries. Obama is hoping that most will eventually conclude the plusses outweigh the minuses.

Keenly aware that this is a congressional election year, Democrats structured the law so virtually all the cuts start next year and take effect only gradually. For this year, the law provides a sweetener. More than 3 million seniors who have been falling into a Medicare prescription coverage gap will get a $250 rebate, a down payment on closing the “doughnut hole.”

Nonetheless, seniors are anxious.

“I’m afraid from the little I’ve heard that it’s not good for seniors,” said Muriel Couzon, 86, a retired supervisory social worker from New York City. A Democrat, Couzon says the legislation could affect her vote this fall: “I have to see what it will do to me and other seniors like me.”

It’s going to take a while before the verdict is in. Change will come slowly to Medicare, which covers 46 million seniors and disabled people. There will be winners and losers:

-Gross cuts in projected payments to insurers, hospitals and other providers total $533 billion over 10 years, according to a preliminary analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. About $100 billion will be plowed back into Medicare, leaving a net cut of $428 billion. Medicare spending will continue to grow under the law, just not as fast. The reductions are smaller (about 6 percent) than Democratic President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress came up with in 1997 (12 percent). Still, they’re deep enough that some experts believe a future Congress will reconsider them.

-The law strengthens traditional Medicare, which covers about three-fourths of seniors, by improving preventive care and increasing payments to frontline primary care doctors and nurses serving as medical coordinators. But it gradually reduces generous government subsidies to private insurance plans, Medicare alternatives that have lately gained popularity. That could lead to an exodus from the private plans.


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