Among all the buzz about health care reform, perhaps one of the more prominent sticking points has been how this new legislation will affect seniors. Opponents of the plan have been vocal about their concerns over cuts to Medicare, while supporters (which include the AARP and other senior-focused organizations) say health care will become more affordable for many seniors.
Linda Douglass, with the White House Office of Health Reform, weighed in with some reassurance for concerned seniors and other citizens on the White House Blog, making note of several important points that will benefit senior citizens. For example, Medicare's prescription drug program, introduced just a few years ago where there was no prior prescription coverage under Medicare, will be improved.
Under the original Medicare Part D program, seniors are responsible for paying 100 percent of the cost of prescription drugs in a coverage gap known as the "donut hole" once they reach certain coverage limits. The health care reform bill implements a series of changes that will completely eliminate this coverage gap by the year 2020. In addition, preventative services will be covered in full for seniors as of next year -- right now, they're paying 20 percent of the cost of preventative care.
What about Medicare cuts? Will seniors be losing their Medicare coverage?
While there will be cuts to Medicare, the cuts focus on reducing fraud and waste by reducing subsidies and eliminating overpayments to private insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage plans, which typically cost the government more than traditional Medicare. Traditional Medicare benefits will remain intact. This is part of an overall goal to improve the health of all Americans by increasing the accountability of insurance companies and providers. Under the plan, incentives will be offered to providers (including physicians and hospitals) for reducing medical errors and coordinating care, which will both improve and simplify the overall health care system for seniors.
Because the goal is to keep costs down without limiting access to health care for seniors, an Independent Payment Advisory Board will be created. This board will keep an eye on Medicare spending and will submit legislative proposals to help control costs. Seniors can rest knowing that their health care benefits will not be cut significantly in the near future, but it's likely that we'll see more changes in the coming years. It's vitally important for seniors to have a trusted friend or relative to help them navigate complex health care and financial issues.