27 July 2009

Happy Birthday Medicare!

In Texas there are 580,000 people who are afflicted with chronic and acute health conditions including; diabetes, heart disease, end state renal failure and obstructive pulmonary disease. At least one in four of these people are likely to be without health insurance.

Were it not for Medicare that percentage would be even higher. At last count (2008) there are 2,778,553 Medicare recipients in the state. Of those, 81% are 65 years and older and within that group 37% are 74 years and older.

July 30th is the 44th anniversary of Medicare. Despite its critics, Medicare is an extremely effective program having reduced senior poverty by two-thirds. Now, as we are engaged in a health care reform debate in Washington we are also presented with opportunities for the state’s older people and many of the state’s 25% uninsured.

We should be calling on our representatives and senators to do several things:

Help All Older Texans. Find an affordable way to allow Texans age 55 – 64 to buy into Medicare. People in this age group need medical care more often, especially for preventative care. Nationally, over 5-million in this age group have no health care insurance.

Close the donut hole. This coverage gap in Medicare Part D means that about one in four seniors will spend several months paying full price for their prescriptions while still paying their premiums. This forces older Texans to make risky, sometimes life threatening choices about whether they will take the medicines prescribed by their doctors.

Make Long-Term Care Affordable. We need to demand that whatever health care bill is presented to the President includes the CLASS Act by Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Frank Pallone. It would create an insurance program to help middle class families with the cost of long-term care. Few working families and older Texans are prepared for what will happen when a loved one will need long-term care.

Assist Employers Who Provide Health Care Coverage. Eliminating or reducing tax benefits given companies who provide health insurance would cause many to stop offering affordable health care to their employees. These benefits should not be taxed.

Hold the Insurance Oligarchs Accountable. One of the most contentious issues in the current debate is that of the “public plan” option. This would create an affordable, government-backed insurance plan as an alternative to buying private insurance. These big insurance oligarchs make a lot of money off our getting sick. A public plan will keep their premiums and business practices in check. If they are doing the best they can, why should they fear a little healthy competition?

Not only do older Texans have a stake in the health care debate, but we also worry about our children and grandchildren in these difficult times. Working together, we can create a health care reform plan that helps Texans of all ages.

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