2009-03-04 / Seniors

Obama Budget Proposes Major Changes In Medicare, Medicaid

As part of his first budget proposal—a gigantic $3.5 TRILLION spending plan for 2010—President Barack Obama is including a $634 billion plan for healthcare reform over 10 years that will impact Medicare and Medicaid for seniors.

One major area the president is focusing on for change affects 10 million seniors who are enrolled in what are called Medicare Advantage plans. The other 34 million seniors get their health care directly through Medicare.

The 10 million seniors who chose Medicare Advantage plans receive their health care through private medical insurance companies. The government pays the major part of the cost for the plan and individual members pay an additional part. Actually, Medicare pays the private insurance companies 14 percent more than the cost of covering a senior in the regular Medicare program.

Obama is proposing to save $176 billion over 10 years by eliminating what a New York Times editorial called "unjustified subsidies" to the private insurance plans. These plans would then have to engage in competitive bidding to continue to provide their services.

One spokesperson for these private insurance plans denounced the president's proposal, saying it would require seniors in these private healthcare plans to bear a disproportionate share of the cost to pay for the president's overall healthcare reforms.

Other changes proposed by Obama that impact on seniors are the following:

•Requiring drug companies to give larger discounts or rebates to Medicaid, which provides drugs and medications to low- income seniors and others.

•Speeding up the approval of low-cost generic drugs by imposing new regulations on drug manufacturers.

•Increasing premiums for Medicare members who are in higher income brackets when they apply for the Medicare drug prescription program.

Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D- Queens/Brooklyn) lauded the president's healthcare reforms generally and particularly because, he said, they would "provide a major boost for New York state", which stands to receive between $45 billion and $75 billion for Medicaid, Medicare and its large healthcare industry.

Seniors would also benefit by another Obama proposal described by Weiner (along with the rest of the city's population): an additional 3,500 NYPD officers to patrol the city's streets.

STIMULUS HELP FOR SENIORS: Many seniors may be wondering what is in the huge $787 billion stimulus plan recently enacted by Congress for them.

According to the Social Security Administration, seniors can expect a $250 check by early June. It is a one-time "economic recovery payment" and it will be delivered to nearly 55 million recipients of Social Security SSI, Railroad Retirement and veterans disability compensation benefits.

It will be separate from monthly benefits, but will be delivered the same way as the regular payment—a check in the mail or a payment directly deposited with a bank or to a debit card account.

FREE AIR CONDITIONERS: With warmer weather on the way, City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. has alerted seniors to a program started by the Queens Independent Living Center (QILC): free air conditioners to seniors with mental and physical disabilities. Actually, Vallone (D- Astoria) says, QILC, a Queens-based group funded by his office, is offering 30 Air Conditioners a month to qualified applicants.

"We are first to provide this needed service to members of society who have disabilities," QILC President Daniel Aliberti said. "People who use certain medications and those with certain medical conditions are either not easily able or not able at all to adjust to temperature fluctuations within their bodies or their environment."

To be considered for an air conditioner, contact QILC at 718-713-4731, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Prospective recipients will be interviewed at the QILC office or in their homes, if they're not able to travel.

Vallone said, "I would encourage people to take advantage of this service now. It's better to start early."

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