CLEVELAND — Blasting the insurance and drug company “rackets” that are draining Medicare, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) urged seniors here to get active in the fight to preserve and expand the besieged federal health care system.

At a town hall meeting at the Parma Senior Center, Oct. 19, the presidential candidate told 250 retirees that the so-called Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) pushed through in the dead of night by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2003 has exceeded the worst fears of its opponents.

Recent federal investigations, he said, reveal that the privatization structures established by the MMA have greatly increased costs for seniors, curtailed access to drugs and health care and provided billions of dollars in subsidies to private corporations while pushing Medicare to the brink of insolvency.

If nothing is done to correct this situation, Kucinich said, current levels of Medicare benefits will end in 12 years.

Under Medicare Part D, established by the MMA, seniors are forced to go through “the extraneous insurance companies” and pay premiums, deductibles and co-payments to obtain prescription drugs, he said. Since the law forbids Medicare to negotiate with the drug companies, prices are excessive and traditional Medicare is being drained to pay administrative costs that are almost six times too high.

The insurance companies do negotiate rebates for some drugs, he said, but the companies keep the rebates without passing any savings onto seniors. This is even the case for seniors whose drug payments reach the coverage gap or “donut hole.” Until they pay their way out of the gap, seniors must continue to pay premiums without coverage while the insurance companies pocket $1 billion in rebates on their drugs, according to a just released study by the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Another study by Boston University School of Public Health found that 61 percent of the spending in Part D goes to guarantee profits for the drug companies amounting to $139 billion.

Bad as this is, Kucinich said, “the real money is in the Medicare Advantage private insurance offered through Medicare as alternative to traditional Medicare.”

Kucinich described Medicare Advantage as a spreading network of “corporate welfare” and “slush funds” that “cuts years off the life of the Medicare trust fund and diverts money away from hospital and acute care services.”

He cited a recent survey of federal audits of privately run Medicare plans conducted by The New York Times which found that tens of thousands had been victims of deceptive sales tactics by the companies which improperly denied claims, terminated coverage, allowed huge backlogs of claims and complaints and failed to answer telephone calls from consumers, doctors and drugstores.

According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and the Congressional Budget Office, “It costs taxpayers 12 percent more (on average) to cover beneficiaries enrolled in private Medicare Advantage Plans than under traditional Medicare,” Kucinich said.

In fact, “there is a race in the health insurance world to determine who can provide the lowest quality benefits for the highest possible cost that consumers, companies and the government will accept.”

“The best, most efficient way to ensure all Medicare beneficiaries will always have real, reliable and complete benefits is to end private involvement in Medicare,” Kucinich said.

“That’s why I, along with John Conyers of Michigan, co-authored the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, HR 676.”

This bill, he said, “captures the enormous savings to be had if Americans had health care provided through Medicare and uses them to cover everyone for all medically necessary services with no co-payments, no deductibles and no premiums.”

“There is enough money that America spends in health insurance and health care today to cover everybody,” he said. “Every year, $2.2 trillion dollars is spent, and only about 69 cents out of every dollar actually goes to providing health care services. We are all paying for universal health coverage. We just aren’t getting it.”

Kucinich urged the seniors to help build the national movement for HR 676, which currently has 85 co-sponsors in Congress. The bill, he said, has the backing of 93 central labor councils.

“There is the possibility of implementing an interim measure of providing a prescription drug benefit that gets rid of the insurance companies and lets the benefit be administered by Medicare,” he said.