Senior citizens are a politically powerful interest group -- they vote in very large numbers, even in off-year elections. They also tend to vote Democratic, so their support for health care reform may be crucial to the party's prospects in the 2010 and 2012 elections. But "Seniors Are Wary of Health Overhaul's Impact on Medicare," AP reports, in an article posted on the AARP website.
The new health care law cuts "waste" in Medicare Advantage programs, but some seniors are anxious that they'll face higher premiums for lower services. In 2010, many seniors experienced $40 to $70 a month increases in Medicare Advantage premiums.
But three-fourths of seniors are covered by traditional Medicare, and stand to gain from the law's investments in preventive care and improved payments to frontline primary care physicians and nurses. The law also eliminates the gap in prescription drug benefits, but that doesn't fully phase in until 2020.
"It's going to be very important for Medicare beneficiaries to understand that on the whole, this is not the disaster some people have painted it to be," said health economist Marilyn Moon, who as a former Medicare trustee helped oversee program finances from 1995 through 2000. "It is a bit of a mixed bag, but I think on balance it is going to put the program in a better position, over a long period of time."
Her one major caveat: Many seniors in private insurance plans under Medicare Advantage will face higher premiums and reduced benefits as subsidies are scaled back over three to six years to bring the private plans' costs in line with those of traditional Medicare.
"Beneficiaries will notice that, and they're going to be unhappy because it's a takeaway," said Moon, who directs the health care program at the American Institutes for Research.
Cracks in the Democratic Line of Defense: Rep. Larry Kissell of NC's 8th Congressional District, a Democrat, said "cuts in Medicare made me vote against health care reform."
He declared: "I am gravely concerned that the cuts in home health care reimbursements will devastate home health care and hospice programs, especially in rural communities, where they are a vital part of the business and community fabric, and where care options for seniors are becoming more and more scarce."