A stronger health care system for older Americans – and that’s the truth

By Senator Mark DeSaulnier

Older Americans have an especially important stake in the health care reform debate, yet opponents of reform have resorted to telling bold-faced lies to protect their economic interests.

Republican scare tactics-tying health care reform to fictional death panels and a raid on Medicare-are shameful and neglect to recognize the current precarious state of health for many seniors.

Sold to Congress by the Bush Administration as a saving grace, Medicare Part D actually withholds benefits from more than three million senior citizens and requires co-payments for check-ups and wellness visits, discouraging preventive care. At the same time, Medicare Part D prohibits the government from negotiating drug prices, forcing older Americans to pay an average 3.5 times the market value for prescriptions.

The health care reform bill before Congress offers coverage to those three million seniors, eliminates co-payments for preventative treatment, and lowers the cost of prescription drugs.

Reform will make Medicare far more efficient.  It will cut billions in wasteful spending from the system, end $177 billion of overpayments to private providers, and force insurers to compete for Medicare dollars.  Eliminating waste will create a more sustainable and better-designed Medicare system.

Health care reform is critically important for older Americans age 50 to 64, who are at a particular risk of losing health insurance.  In today’s economy, older employees are often the first to be laid off. With Medicare available to only those over the age of 65, these displaced workers are forced into private insurance. Yet many insurance companies will not cover Americans within this age group, especially if the individual suffers from a pre-existing condition.

Health care reform will prevent private companies from denying them coverage – and will ensure that a robust public option provides a quality, affordable choice of plan.

Because health care reform, with a strong public option, offers clear benefits to older Americans, fear mongering and lies are all that the naysayers have left.

As AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said last week: “This effort is too important to our members and their families to let misinformation derail our best shot in a generation to fix what’s wrong in our health care system.”