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Democratic President Barack Obama was in Missouri this week to raise money for fellow Democrats, and also to gain support for his plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system. But as the president makes one last push for health care changes, Republicans are pushing right back. One point of contention is how the lengthy health care bill will affect seniors. As KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports, both sides are eager to take their messages to the public.
On the same morning this week, Senators Kit Bond and Claire McCaskill, as well as Congressman Roy Blunt held conference calls with the media to talk about the president’s proposed health care plan. Bond and Blunt, who are both Republicans, held their conference call together, and came out guns blazing. Here’s Senator Kit Bond, in referring to President Obama Wednesday:
“He has shown that he’s not listening. He thinks if he talks…very…slowly…we…will…understand. The problem is, the American people understand it, and if he would listen, he would find that there is a real move for common sense reforms,” Bond said.
The Senate passed the health care legislation on Christmas Eve. The House of Representatives has not yet voted on its version of the bill.
There’s been heated debate on how the legislation will, or will not, affect seniors. I asked both sides for specifics, starting with Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. She voted for the health care bill.
Moore: “Good morning, Senator, Jennifer Moore from the NPR station in Springfield, KSMU. Senator Bond’s Senate website says the health care bill will cut Medicare benefits for seniors immediately. First of all, is that true? And where do you think he’s getting that from?”
McCaskill: “Well, it’s misleading. It’s not false but it’s misleading, and let me explain. A number of years ago, the insurance companies – this will sound familiar by the way – came to Congress and said 'Just let us take over a part of Medicare and we will be able to deliver a superior product and save the government money.' Well, it didn’t’ turn out that way. Medicare Advantage was created. And we transferred a whole lot of profit over to these health insurance companies from the taxpayers. And they’re not delivering a better product than the Medicare program. They are spending a lot more money—more public money. But there may be a few programs that people can get eye exams once a year, or maybe a dental exam. But what the taxpayers are paying for that is outrageous.”
McCaskill said the new legislation will cut Medicare Advantage program, which she says is an expensive program that allowed private insurers to jump on board in providing services to Medicare patients.
She says Medicare needs serious restructuring, particularly with the Medicare Advantage program, which she says did not live up to what it was supposed to be.Republicans Bond and Blunt, however, say the proposed cuts to Medicare are extreme.
Here’s how that conference call went, with the first response coming from Congressman Blunt.
Senator Bond: “Okay, next question.”Moore: “This is Jennifer Moore with KSMU Radio in Springfield. I have a question to both of you. I’d like to just get some specifics of the actual legislation itself. Congressman Blunt, you mentioned this will ‘cripple Medicare' and, Senator, your website says it would cut some Medicare services immediately. Will this legislation do away with any Medicare services except Medicare Advantage? And if you could please be specific about the bill itself.
Blunt: “Well, the answer is ‘Yes.’ And it does end Medicare Advantage in every state. 25% of all people in the country, approximately 25%, take Medicare Advantage because it gives them access to more doctors and more services than they otherwise would have. Apparently, the bill the House will vote for would eliminate Medicare Advantage everywhere except parts of Florida…And that’s about $165 billion, at least at one point that was the number they had—it’s roughly that. And then you’re gonna cut it another $300 billion plus in just Medicare cuts, finding waste, fraud and abuse.”
Blunt went on to say that any money saved from saved from “waste, fraud and abuse” should go right back into other programs within Medicare. He then tossed the question to Senator Bond.
“Cutting a half a trillion dollars out of Medicare means that even more Medicare providers will stop taking Medicare patients. Seniors on Medicare are going to find that hospitals can take fewer patients, doctors can take fewer patients,” said Bond.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan research group, says Medicare Advantage is a program that allows Medicare beneficiaries to pay for private health insurance plans, which tend to cost more than the traditional “Fee For Service” plans.
So, in a nutshell, McCaskill says the more expensive Medicare Advantage plans have led to unnecessary and unfair profits for private insurance companies. McCaskill added that those same insurance companies are scaring seniors by telling them they will no longer be able to receive care, which McCaskill says is not true. She says it just won’t be called Medicare Advantage anymore.
Bond and Blunt say they see the Medicare Advantage program as successful, and vital in giving seniors the quality and choice of health care they need.
Also according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 19 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in Missouri last year were enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.