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Benefits of Reform 

As federal health care reform enters the debate stage, keep the big picture in mind

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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. In fact, 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 efforts aim to improve Medicare’s finances so it will remain viable. If we don’t act 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.

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 fi x the problem for those who enter the gap and provide brand-name drugs for half the cost.

We have almost 900,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Washington state. This year, Medicare is expected to pay nearly 25 percent 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 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 in rural areas. Because of the low rates paid to physicians and other providers, many seniors enrolled in traditional Medicare are having trouble finding a doctor.

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 reimbursements.

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 the American Medical Association endorses health care reform.

The nation’s leading advocate for seniors, AARP, has endorsed the House health care bill because it knows the legislation would be good for all Americans.

Attempts to create anxiety among seniors have been one of the more distressing elements of this year’s debate. Please don’t be misled — both health care bills have tremendous benefits for seniors.

Karen Keiser (D-Kent) is chair of the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee in the Washington Legislature. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) is chair of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

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