WSB guest opinion: Legislators take on health-care-reform claims

November 22, 2009 at 9:30 pm | In Opinion | 9 Comments

Opinion:
By State Rep. Eileen Cody
(D-West Seattle) and State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-SeaTac)
Chairs of the Washington House and Senate Health Care Committees

Many senior citizens are concerned about the impact health care reform will have on them. They’ve been targeted by opponents of federal health care reform with false and misleading claims.

One fear is that reform will come at the expense of Medicare benefits or other current coverage. The fact is, Medicare was created by our government more than 40 years ago out of the belief that no one should go without health care once they reach retirement age. That commitment will not change. Neither will benefits.

Current reform efforts aim to improve Medicare’s finances so it will remain viable for generations to come. If we don’t take action now to reduce fraud, abuse and insurance company overpayments, it’s estimated that by 2017 the money Medicare spends on benefits will exceed its income. Seniors would then have to pay more or they would receive fewer Medicare benefits. Health care reform legislation will improve Medicare’s finances.

Reform legislation would also help older Americans who are not enrolled in Medicare by making it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. The bills in both chambers also require insurance companies to cover routine screenings for preventive care such as diabetes, osteoporosis and colonoscopies with no out of pocket costs. And both bills would end age discrimination by making it illegal for insurance companies to charge ridiculous rates for people just because they are older.

One of the biggest concerns for seniors on Medicare is the notorious “donut hole” in their prescription drug coverage. If passed, health care reform would fix the problem and provide brand name drugs for half the cost for those who enter the gap.

We have almost 900,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Washington state. This year, Medicare is expected to pay nearly a quarter more for the average patient in traditional Medicare in Florida than for a Medicare patient in Washington. However, the higher rate of reimbursement in Florida doesn’t result in better health outcomes. Our state has a tradition of more efficient, lower cost care that produces better outcomes. Our providers should not be punished for being efficient.

The comparison is even more striking for rural areas of Washington. Because of the low rates paid to physicians and other providers, many seniors enrolled in traditional Medicare are having trouble finding a doctor. Many physicians are only accepting Medicare Advantage patients because they receive higher payments through those arrangements.

Both the House and Senate health care reform bills include a way to “level the playing field” and create more equity in Medicare reimbursement across the country. That means our providers will be receiving a higher rate of reimbursement for Medicare when reform is implemented. And the unfair advantage of Medicare Advantage private insurance plans would be reduced.

Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Jay Inslee have worked long and hard on this critical element of making health reform fair to our provider community. In addition, the restoration of scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursements is one of the many reasons why the American Medical Association endorses health care reform.

Implementation of some of these proposed changes─ such as closing the prescription “donut hole”─ could begin as early as next year. Others would come into play in 2014.

The nation’s leading advocate for seniors, AARP, has endorsed the House health care reform bill because it knows the legislation would be good for all Americans. And here in Washington, a recent poll of AARP members found 68 percent of them support national health reform.

Attempts to create anxiety among seniors have been one of the more distressing elements of this year’s health reform debate. Last August notorious “death panels” were promoted, and in the next few weeks, as the final phase of the debate begins, we will no doubt see many more alarmist and misleading charges. But please don’t be misled─ both health care reform bills have tremendous benefits for seniors.

WSB will consider op-ed essays by West Seattleites for possible publication. We suggest you query first – editor@westseattleblog.com – thanks!

9 Comments

  1. I was shocked to learn that my monthly payments for Regence Classic MediAdvantage insurance is going to go up 52% for next year!…. and out of pocket maximum for medical services will go up 67%!! and co-pays will go up 150%!!!all beginning Jan 1, 2010. Please remember, Seniors are on fixed income budgets. How can they possibly absorb this type of increase? With increases like these, how can they say it is not going to cost us more? I have friends who say they will be forced into Medicaid because of these increases.
    Are the insurance companies just raising rates ahead of the inevitable legislation? The democrats say it won’t cost more…. they just lie!

    Comment by Dismayed At Increase — 10:04 pm November 22, 2009 #

  2. Dismayed…, how do you blame Democratic-sponsored health care reform which seeks to cut costs for your insurance company raising your rates astronomically a couple of months from now?

    Comment by Mickymse — 8:31 am November 23, 2009 #

  3. Yeah, Dismayed, that doesn’t make any sense. Those huge increases are what you get *without* health care reform. Are you saying you want more of the same?

    Comment by KBear — 10:54 am November 23, 2009 #

  4. Funny, it’s a face that Medicare benefits and medicaid benefits are going to be cut drasticfally. Tax increases will cover the rest. But we many not have to worry about paying the Doctors as I hear they will be leaving practice if this INSANE bill passes.

    Comment by Tonya — 11:36 am November 23, 2009 #

  5. Despite all the demonizing of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies or doctors for what they charge, the fundamental costs of goods and services are the costs of producing them.

    If highly paid chief executives of insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies agreed to work free of charge, it would make very little difference in the cost of insurance or medications. If doctors’ incomes were cut in half, that would not lower the cost of producing doctors through years of expensive training in medical schools and hospitals, nor the overhead costs of running doctors’ offices.

    What it would do is reduce the number of very able people who are willing to take on the high costs of a medical education when the return on that investment is greatly reduced and the aggravations of dealing with government bureaucrats are added to the burdens of the work.

    Britain has had a government-run medical system for more than half a century and it has to import doctors, including some from Third World countries where the medical training may not be the best. In short, reducing doctors’ income is not reducing the cost of medical care, it is refusing to pay those costs. Like other ways of refusing to pay costs, it has consequences.

    Any one of us can reduce medical costs by refusing to pay them. In our own lives, we recognize the consequences. But when someone with a gift for rhetoric tells us that the government can reduce the costs without consequences, we are ready to believe in such political miracles.

    There are some ways in which the real costs of medical care can be reduced but the people who are leading the charge for a government takeover of medical care are not the least bit interested in actually reducing those costs, as distinguished from shifting the costs around or just refusing to pay them.

    The high costs of “defensive medicine” — expensive tests, medications and procedures required to protect doctors and hospitals from ruinous lawsuits, rather than to help the patients — could be reduced by not letting lawyers get away with filing frivolous lawsuits.

    If a court of law determines that the claims made in such lawsuits are bogus, then those who filed those claims could be forced to reimburse those who have been sued for all their expenses, including their attorneys’ fees and the lost time of people who have other things to do. But politicians who get huge campaign contributions from lawyers are not about to pass laws to do this.

    Why should they, when it is so much easier just to start a political stampede with fiery rhetoric and glittering promises?

    Comment by Tonya — 12:11 pm November 23, 2009 #

  6. The new mandates on health insurance companies will absolutely raise the cost of private health care insurance. The bill does squawdoosh to cut/lower/reduce those costs. The gov’t option will eventually squeeze them out resulting in jobs lost across the country

    And expanding Medicaid while wholesale gutting Medicare Adv. to the tune of $170 billion, then adding 15 million more people to Medicaid, and saying there won’t be an eventual loss in what they fed gov’t will and won’t cover, is woefully dishonest and criminally misleading.

    Oh, and burdening all 52 states with an additional $34 billion in state-red plan when most states are either financially strapped or bankrupt is the definition of insanity.

    Comment by OP — 12:14 pm November 23, 2009 #

  7. Every other industrialized country in the world provides government-run health care for its citizens, paying most of the patients’ costs while spending less on health care than our government already does. It would seem that we are the ones who’ve got it wrong, not the rest of the world.

    Comment by KBear — 1:16 pm November 23, 2009 #

  8. KB – When you look at mortality rates, taxes of the countries that have socilized medicine, you will see that you are comparing apples to oranges.

    Comment by Tonya — 8:59 am November 24, 2009 #

  9. What mortality rates? The U.S. has a very low life expectancy compared to other developed nations, all of which have government health care plans. By the way, we have socialized medicine in the U.S., too. It’s called Medicare. Should we get rid of that? I’m so tired of the term “socialized medicine” being appropriated by right wingers who don’t even know what it means, other than being useful for frightening people into thinking that it is somehow the first step on the path to communism.

    Comment by KBear — 12:15 pm November 24, 2009 #

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