UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 9, 2009

SENIORS WORRIED ABOUT HEALTHCARE PLANS

Ceci Connolly, Washington Post - Senior citizens are emerging as a formidable obstacle to President Obama's ambitious health-care reform plans.

The discontent in the powerful and highly organized voting bloc has risen to such a level that the administration is scrambling to devise a strategy to woo the elderly.

Obama's task will not be easy. Proposals to squeeze more than $500 billion out of the growth of Medicare over the next decade have fueled fears that his effort to expand coverage to millions of younger, uninsured Americans will damage elder care. As a result, barely one-third of seniors support a health-care overhaul, several polls found. . .

From the raw numbers, it appears seniors are the net losers under bills approved by three House committees last week. The legislation trims $563 billion out of Medicare's growth rate over the next 10 years while pumping in about $320 billion. Without any changes, the program is expected to cost about $6.4 trillion over the same period.

But three retiree groups and several independent policy analysts say most of the proposed savings affect providers, rather than beneficiaries, and have the potential to improve quality over the long term. Discounts for prescription drugs, higher reimbursements for many doctors and elimination of co-payments for preventive services are some of the ideas advocates applauded.

"I don't see anything that will affect beneficiaries' access to care, though some of it will depend on implementation," said Joseph Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit group focused on older Americans. . .

Hospitals would receive smaller-than-anticipated payments under the House plans. One provision would slash payments to hospitals that have high readmission rates. Medicare estimates that 19 percent of the unpleasant, costly readmissions are "preventable." . . .

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