Obama reaches out to seniors on new Medicare benefits

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One of the most important features of President Obama's health reform law is that it begins to make health care more affordable for retirees and seniors. Several important reforms will undo some of the harm caused by Republican policies in the George W. Bush era.

In remarks during a nationwide town hall meeting with seniors via telephone, Internet, and television, President Obama described Medicare as more than simply an "entitlement program." He said, "It's something that you've worked a lifetime for, having the security of knowing that Medicare will be there when you need it. It's a sacred and inviolable trust between you and your country."

In just a few days, millions of seniors will receive checks from the federal government to cover the additional insurance costs in the so-called donut-hole. Those higher costs were created by Republicans and George w. Bush when they changed the Medicare program to provide added benefits and profits for insurance companies.

New regulations will gradually close the donut hole each year until it is eliminated in 2020.

In addition, Medicare beneficiaries will get free preventive services such as colorectal cancer screenings, mammograms and a free annual wellness visit.

New investments in community health centers will ensure seniors have better access to care in their local communities. As these new investments are distributed and community centers built and improved, seniors, as well as the millions of other working families who use these facilities, will find high quality care close to home.

One of the most important changes the President's health reform law does is to end the Medicare Advantage scam. In 2003 the Republicans essentially turned tens of billions in taxpayer dollars and premium payments over to private insurance companies through the Medicare Advantage program - without providing any additional benefit to beneficiaries of the program.

The Republican scam paid about $1,000 per person to private insurers over the cost of traditional Medicare. In addition to taxpayer dollars, Medicare recipients paid higher premiums to cover this handout to the insurance companies.

The Obama reforms eliminate the Medicare Advantage program gradually, saving $15 billion to $20 billion each year and ensuring that each Medicare beneficiary has the same high quality coverage as before. In fact, if private companies want to participate in Medicare they will be prohibited from charging higher out-of-pocket prices coverage.

In addition to these savings, new revenues will com from slightly higher premiums for the richest Medicare beneficiaries. Retiree couples earning more than $170,000 annually will see a 2 percent rise in their premiums. According to government data, this rise will impact about 2 percent of Medicare recipients.

The savings and new revenues, according to government analysis, should extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by nine years. By 2018, most seniors will save an estimated $200 per year in premiums and as much or more in insurance co-pays per year.

Launching a new campaign this week against fraud and waste, the White House warned seniors to be wary of scam artists trying to take advantage of the changes in the law.

President Obama said, "I want to send a notice to all who would swindle and steal from seniors and the Medicare system: We are going to find you, we will prosecute you, and we will ultimately prevent those crimes from happening ever again."

He directed the Department of Health and Human Services to warn insurance companies against raising their rates just to pad their profits. He promised that his administration will work closely with state attorneys general to prosecute fraud and abuse.

The administration also launched a multi-faceted campaign to communicate with seniors and Medicare recipients about their new benefits and rights under the new law.

"The more we can work together to educate the American people about ways to protect themselves and the health care system from fraud and scams, the better chance we have to protect taxpayer dollars and the Medicare Trust Funds," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "In addition to this outreach and education media campaign, we are working with organizations across the country to ensure seniors know where to turn to get information about the new law and their Medicare benefits."

Photo: http://www.whitehouse.gov/

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