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Op-Ed: Healthcare Reform And Seniors


Location: Washington, DC

Recent polls have shown that seniors are more skeptical about the Democrats' healthcare reform effort than any other group. With talk of Medicare cuts, rationing, and changes to end of life care, this skepticism is well deserved.

One of the biggest concerns expressed over the summer was the supposed presence of "death panels" in the bill. I read the entire bill when it was first introduced, and I can personally attest the language "death panel" does not appear anywhere in the bill. Questions persist, however, about the possibility that rationed care and that the voluntary counseling provided for in the legislation could put some seniors in situations in which they feel pressured or obligated to forego future treatments. Every American needs to know that they are in no way obligated to sign away the right to medical care. We do, however, need to be concerned about whether this bill would ultimately lead to rationed care.

What should be of far greater concern to seniors is the legislation's huge cuts to Medicare. All told, $500 billion would be cut from Medicare reimbursement over the course of ten years. Some of the cuts in healthcare reform bills have included $49 billion from home healthcare, $4.3 billion in imaging services, and $101.6 billion from hospitals, hospices, and other care facilities.

President Obama claims that these are not true cuts but are instead cuts to waste and fraud. He may be correct in saying that there are billions in waste and fraud in the entire system that we need to take swift action to correct. I agree but this bill doesn't do that. What it does is cut funding to doctors and hospitals.

Beside the cuts to reimbursement rates, this bill will cut the Medicare Advantage program by more than $150 billion. Medicare Advantage was a program created to offer seniors new choices when it comes to healthcare. There are 29,835 seniors enrolled in these plans in the 16th District of Pennsylvania. On average, seniors in these plans save $800 a year, and they have lower rates of hospitalization and greater patient satisfaction.

I'm concerned that cuts to provider reimbursement and Medicare Advantage will only reduce the quality of coverage without saving a program that is quickly running out of funds. Medicare's trustees report that the trust fund "does not meet our short-range test for financial adequacy, and fund assets are projected to be exhausted in 2017."

The "savings" extracted from Medicare by this healthcare reform bill will not be used to shore up the crumbling program. Instead, they will go to create a brand new government health benefit. While the President and Democratic leadership claim that this new program will ultimately reduce healthcare costs, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office only shows meager savings that fall far short of what is needed to save and protect Medicare.

I believe we need healthcare reform that lowers costs for all Americans; especially those who are on fixed incomes. The current bills add to the government's obligations without ensuring that we are able to keep the promises we have already made to our nation's seniors.

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