2005-05-04 / Seniors

Congress OKs Budget, Including Medicaid, VA Cuts

In line with the Bush presidential administration’s call for spending cuts in most domestic programs, Congress passed a budget last week which will reduce spending on Medicaid by $10 billion over the next four years.

The change in funding will not start until the 2007 fiscal year, but many states, including New York, have already cut their Medicaid programs in anticipation of the federal government’s call for reductions in spending. The federal government covers half of the states’ Medicaid program costs.

The budget passed the House by a very narrow margin, 217–214, but passed the Senate by a more comfortable spread. These are the first budget cuts in domestic programs since 1997.

Meanwhile, the budget also contains $106 billion in tax cuts over the next five years. The reduction will be $70 billion in this year’s budget, giving President George W. Bush the extended decreases he wanted for upper-income taxpayers.

The approved budget also will reduce Veterans Affairs (VA) funding, which means veterans in VA programs will have to pick up a larger share of the costs for them. There is also the possibility that the VA hospital in Manhattan, which is used by many Queens vets, will be closed or reduce its services. That will leave the Brooklyn VA hospital available, but it’s a longer distance away for Queens veterans.

SKIPPING MEDICATIONS: A recent study shows two out of five seniors are not taking prescriptions ordered for them because of the cost of the medicine or because they think they know better than their doctors.

According to the study at Tufts–New England Medical Center in Massachusetts, the researchers said the situation might improve when the new Medicare drug prescription plan goes into effect next January 1. The new program will make drugs more affordable as the federal government contributes to the cost of the prescriptions up to a certain point.

The study also found that 5 percent of those questioned who have prescription coverage said they are buying their medications from Canada or Mexico; among those without coverage, 11 percent buy drugs from the two neighboring countries.

Many senior advocates, among them the AARP, want the federal government to authorize drug purchases from abroad because they cost less than in the United States. Advocates also want Washington, D.C. to negotiate buying huge quantities of drugs in bulk because they are much cheaper, and pass the savings along to Medicare members.

MEETING: Members of North Flushing AARP Chapter No. 4158 will hear a talk on electric and gas rates by a New York Power Authority representative when the group meets next Tuesday, May 10, at noon at Church-on-the-Hill, 167-07 35th Ave., Flushing.

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