June 16, 2011 in City

AARP, state offering information sessions on health reform

By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. Bart Rayniak photoBuy this photo

Barbara Votava, center, of Spokane, stretches during a session on good brain health at CenterPlace in Spokane Valley on Wednesday. It was part of a program addressing questions about health care reform.
(Full-size photo)

Political opportunism and the complexity of federal health care reform legislation have confused many seniors regarding the merits of the plan, according to AARP, which has launched a series of information sessions around Washington state.

It’s been a year since the landmark legislation passed and yet the debate still rages, even as preparations are being made for the major changes that take root by 2014.

“Honestly, we’ve even talked to people during these meetings who thought reform was still being debated,” said Ingrid McDonald, an AARP Washington advocacy director.

AARP threw its important support behind the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010. Depending on the poll, about half of Americans opposed the reforms or at least have deep concerns about them.

AARP is using the meetings – which are being supported and presented by the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner – to dispel what they say is a rash of misinformation that continues to play a role in the ongoing debate.

Underscoring how bad it can get: At one meeting a man asked about a rumor that reforms will require people to have computer chips embedded in their heads, said Chewon Lee, an insurance benefits advisor for the insurance commissioner’s office.

It’s a daunting task to try to explain legislation that is such rich fodder for both absurdity and legitimate debate, Lee said.

So AARP and the insurance commissioner’s office are trying to tell members once again why they supported the new law and how it affects them along with their children and grandchildren.

Perhaps most important to seniors and those who will be eligible for Medicare in coming years is that the reform law will close the so-called “doughnut hole” by 2020.

Closing the prescription drug coverage gap was paramount to earning the support of AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

AARP also strongly supported a central tenet of reform that calls for free preventive medical examinations each year, such as cancer screenings; an insurance requirement that provides continued coverage for those with pre-existing conditions; and an ability for young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance plans.

These changes that AARP deems positive, however, are struggling to catch attention. Instead, politics obfuscates facts.

One recent example, which gained traction following the first debate among Republican presidential hopefuls in New Hampshire this week, is the claim that health reform mandates a $500 billion cut to Medicare to pay for the care of younger people.

“That scared a lot of seniors,” said AARP’s McDonald, “but it’s misleading.” She told an audience of more than 100 Wednesday morning that such “cuts” were actually anticipated “savings” from the program over 10 years.

McDonald added that the savings wouldn’t be wrung from seniors but rather from health care providers.

Almost everyone acknowledges Medicare spending is out of control, and both political parties seem to acknowledge in their own proposals that savings must be found.

Lee said some savings will be found through unraveling fraud. He told the audience of a Washington state case where a diabetes patient’s toenails were clipped during a doctor visit, but the service was billed as an expensive foot surgery.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email