KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Some Basis Seen For Senior Citizens’ Anxieties

Some seniors, including some who voted for President Barack Obama, are concerned that health care reform could cut some of their Medicare benefits.

"White House officials and Democrats in Congress say the fears of older Americans about possible rationing of health care are based on myths and falsehoods. But Medicare beneficiaries and insurance counselors say the concerns are not entirely irrational," The New York Times reports. "Bills now in Congress would squeeze savings out of Medicare, a lifeline for the elderly, on the assumption that doctors and hospitals can be more efficient."

"The zeal for cutting health costs, combined with proposals to compare the effectiveness of various treatments and to counsel seniors on end-of-life care, may explain why some people think the legislation is about rationing, which could affect access to the most expensive services in the final months of life." The House bill, however, "would help older Americans with their drug costs" as well as "eliminate co-payments for screenings and preventive services, and it could improve the coordination of care they receive from different doctors." Senior groups are being flooded with calls from worried Medicare beneficiaries.  

"Mr. Obama has repeatedly said, 'Nobody is talking about cutting Medicare benefits,' but proposals include cuts to Medicare Advantage plans. In the past, insurers reacted to such cuts by increasing premiums, reducing benefits or pulling out of the Medicare market, and beneficiaries complained loudly" (Pear, 8/20).

A separate article in The New York Times reports on elderly concerns over health care at a retirement community in Sunrise, Florida. 76-year-old Shirley Scrop, who voted for Obama, is happy with her current health care coverage, and "Like many among the lipsticked poker sharks, treadmill walkers and mah-jongg warriors who stay active at the community's Phase 4 Clubhouse, Ms. Scrop has found her lifelong allegiance to the Democratic Party competing with her fears that the cost of providing universal coverage will fall heavily on the aged."

"Whether or not they buy the false accusation that the Obama administration plans to set up 'death panels' - some do and some do not - many express a generalized fear that care of the elderly will take a back seat and that access to procedures and drugs may be restricted." Three of every four presidential votes in Sunrise Lake were for Obama, which "makes it particularly striking that there is such anxiety here about Democratic health care initiatives" (Sack, 8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: "AARP thinks U.S. health care needs a sweeping overhaul. Problem is, a lot of its members don't agree. That is putting the 40-million-strong organization of older Americans in a tight spot. It is fielding a flood of calls from worried seniors and battling rumors about President Barack Obama's health push, which it supports ... AARP leaders believe the health system's high costs, middling results and large number of uninsured demand an overhaul. That resonates with some in the 50-64 age group represented by AARP who are uninsured or underinsured. But it is a tough sell to those over 65, who already have guaranteed health care through Medicare"  (Bendavid and Fields, 8/21).

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