2002-06-26 / Seniors

Fight In Congress Over Rx Medicare Coverage

By John Toscano

Any day now Republicans in Congress are expected to call for a vote on their plan to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare benefits.

Even if they are successful in passing it, the bill may have a difficult time passing the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and have introduced their own legislation to provide seniors with prescription drug benefits under Medicare.

A third bill has been filed by House Democrats, similar to the one filed by Democrats in the Senate.

Of the three bills, the least amount of out-of-pocket expenses required of a Medicare recipient who decides to take the coverage, $2,300, occurs under the Senate Dems’ bill. The House Dems’ bill would cost members slightly more and the highest amount to be expended—$3,800—comes under the Republicans’ measure.

All three bills would require lesser expenditures from low-income Medicare recipient. The Democrats’ plans call for Medicare to administer the prescription benefits directly; the Republican plan would have insurance companies do it, similar to the way HMOs administer Medicare for almost six million Medicare recipients.

The plans submitted by both political parties have resulted in a furious fight by each to try to get an advantage in the House elections later this year, in which each party will wage all-out campaigns for the votes of seniors which can provide the key to who wins or loses.

Every senior should make a major effort to stay abreast of future developments on prescription drug benefits as they unfold in coming weeks and in the campaigns later on.

REMINDER TO BEWARE: Last week Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown revealed that Helen Brunjes, a 91-year-old East Elmhurst woman who suffers from dementia, had allegedly been bilked out of $167,000 and possibly several thousand dollars more since 1998 by a home health aide.

Brown said the alleged swindler, Bibi Khan, 40, of Richmond Hill, also known as Bibi Singh, has been charged with grand larceny, forgery and criminal possession of a forged instrument. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted Brown said. The investigation is still continuing.

It started when a neighbor of Brunjes became suspicious and called Brown’s office. The initial investigation by detectives found that Khan/Singh allegedly wrote 105 checks in amounts ranging from $15 to $6,500 between February 1999 and last January. Brunjes would sign blank checks and withdrawal amounts would be filled in later by Khan, who would later intercept the account statements sent to Brunjes.

The case serves as a warning for anyone who has a person helping them with their personal finances.

A system of checking up on these cases should be devised, perhaps by banks when they see second parties cashing checks for large amounts when the actual account holder rarely if ever appears at the bank.

AVELLA’S INFO BROCHURE: A brochure titled "Important Information for Seniors" has been published by Councilmember Tony Avella (D–Bayside) to provide seniors with key phone numbers regarding personal finances and other important senior health, housing and transportation programs.

Avella said, "In the society we live in today, it is hard to know who to contact for help. This brochure provides a lot of useful information for seniors."

Avella said he will be handing out the brochures outside and while visiting Long Island Rail Road stations in his district, which includes Bayside, Whitestone and College Point. He said the brochure will be available at his district office, 38-50 Bell Blvd., Bayside (718) 747-2137.

NOLAN BILL RAISING BLIND VETERAN BENEFIT PASSES ASSEMBLY: The Assembly has approved a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Catherine Nolan that will increase the annual $1,000 benefit for blind veterans by automatically adding the annual cost of living increase at the end of each year.

Nolan (D–Ridgewood) said her bill will prevent the erosion of this benefit due to inflation. She said that the annuity, set at $500 a year in 1913, was increased to $1,000 last year. "Presently," she explained, "this veterans’ benefit will lose value again as it is fixed at a certain level and therefore will not keep up with inflation. This bill would prevent the slippage."

There are 3,200 recipients of the benefit, Nolan said. She was supported on the bill by the John V. Daniels Veterans Post in Long Island City. For more information, call Nolan’s district office in Woodside at (718) 784-3194 or in Ridgewood at (718) 456-9492.

WEINER PRESENTS FLAG: The Glenridge Senior Center at 59-03 Summerfeld St. in Ridgewood received a new American flag from Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn) during the recent celebration of Flag Day. It replaces one which had become weather-beaten during years of display. Weiner and Glenridge members held a ceremony to raise the new flag in front of the center.

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