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Op-Ed: Working For Our Senior Citizens


Location: Washington, DC

Like so many Americans today, our seniors in Florida are struggling. They are worried about the present and the future. I have spoken to many people at senior centers around my district, at town halls I've hosted, or even in line at the grocery store. Many of you from the Greatest Generation remember firsthand suffering through the Great Depression.

I want to assure you that the Democrats in Congress are working with President Obama to prioritize the needs of older Americans and seniors. We have passed and are working on legislation to rebuild our economy, strengthen Social Security and Medicare benefits, and protect our seniors.

That is why I voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1), which was signed into law just over a year ago. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the $862 billion plan increased economic growth during the fourth quarter of 2009 between 1.5 percent and 3.5 percent. It pumped $272 billion into the economy by the end of December. Without this measure, I have little doubt that many seniors would be living through their second Great Depression.

The Recovery Act also put money back in the pockets of seniors living in my district. Any person receiving Social Security was provided an additional $250. But you may not be aware of everything else the Recovery Act did. It created--and is still creating--jobs for seniors by investing $120 million for the Senior Community Service Employment Program. This program provides part-time jobs in community service for seniors struggling to find employment.

The Recovery Act also provided funds to lower the cost of food, energy and housing for America's seniors, including:

* $100 million for critical senior nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels and meals served at senior centers.

* Provisions to help older homeowners tap the equity in their homes with reverse mortgages, so that they can refinance unaffordable mortgages, pay medical bills, and meet other daily expenses.

Of course, there are steps beyond the Recovery Act that we must take to ensure the health and well being of our seniors. We passed legislation to protect seniors' continued access to physicians by preventing a 21% reduction in doctor's reimbursements, which was scheduled to occur on January 1, 2010. That reduction would have led many doctors to stop seeing Medicare patients.

Health care reform is on the minds of many of my constituents these days. With health insurance premiums nearly doubling in the past ten years, and with more and more Americans losing their insurance, Floridians understand that ignoring problems now will only make them worse.

Landmark health care reform will strengthen Medicare, extending its solvency while at the same time lowering the costs of prescription drugs for seniors by beginning to close the Medicare Part D donut hole. Health care reform will eliminate co-pays for preventive care in Medicare, it will strengthen access to your doctor, and it will improve care coordination.

Health care reform will have a positive effect on adults ages 50 to 64 as well. This age group makes up nearly half of AARP's 40 million members, and they are quickly becoming the fastest growing group of uninsured. The AARP reports that the rate at which this group of older Americans has been losing coverage is really startling, reaching 36 percent between 2000 and 2009. More and more are losing their jobs and the employer-sponsored health care that comes along with it. Many are finding it difficult to get affordable individual coverage, mainly because health insurers consider age and pre-existing conditions when setting their rates.

Older Americans with insurance are also more often denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition because they are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions. This just isn't right. We must correct this and passing comprehensive health reform legislation does just that.

Protecting seniors and their income from financial frauds and schemes is critical, so that they have money for the things they need. It's why we voted to institute new regulations on the banking industry and why we strengthened the regulations that were already on the books.

* Congress passed and the President signed, a Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights, providing tough new protections for consumers. It bans unfair rate increases and stops the abusive fees and penalties that credit card companies have inflicted on America's seniors.

* Congress also provided new tools to prosecute the types of mortgage scams and corporate fraud that added to the financial crisis and caused millions of Americans to lose their homes or face foreclosure.

These are just the first steps have taken to protect our seniors. I will keep fighting on behalf of seniors to improve their safety, health and financial security.

If you need help, I want to hear from you. Contact my office in Pembroke Pines at (954) 437-3936, in Aventura at (305) 936-5724, or in Washington, DC at (202) 225-7931.

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