Seniors rally for strong health care reform

HARTFORD – Hundreds of seniors from all over the state gathered at the Chowder Pot restaurant in Hartford to learn about the meaning of health care reform. The gathering of union and community retirees committed to call their representatives and Senator Dodd to thank them for their efforts so far and to urge them to continue to fight for the best possible bill to be voted on later this month.

Panelists vowed to continue the fight for meaningful national health care reform and to counter the lies being told by the “tea baggers,” the Republican opposition and corporate profit makers.

The event was sponsored by the Seniors-to-Seniors coalition that includes AARP, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the Services Employees International Union, AFSCME Retirees, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Center of Black Aged and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.

Also on Thursday, AFSCME Council 4 along with five other unions and the Connecticut AFL-CIO sponsored full page ads in four daily newspapers. Headlined
“Working families need health care reform, NOT higher taxes,” the ad calls upon readers to call the Congressional delegation and urge language in the final bill “be taken from the House version, HR 3590, which pays for health care reform with a surtax on the wealthiest earners: the same earners who benefited so much from the failed tax policies of the Bush era. The House plan gets it right.”

The unions are concerned that the Senate version would require 20% of workers who currently have health care coverage to pay taxes on it.

They warn that the tax would not lower costs, but would result in loss of coverage. The ad quotes a survey of health plan sponsors indicating that “63% say they would cut covered benefits to avoid the new tax – and nearly ten percent of small employers would end their plans altogether.”

Panelists at the Seniors to Seniors luncheon included Mary Elia, ARA; Bonnie Gauthier, American Association of Homes and Services, Brenda Kelley, AARP, and Barbara Kennelly, former congressional representative from Hartford and now president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

The speakers noted that while public option will probably not be in the final bill, many other positive aspects are being developed. They committed to continue to fight to improve whatever legislation finally passes into law. In answer to lies being spread against health care reform, they emphasized that health care reform will not cut any guaranteed Medicare services such as doctor visits, hospital care or rehabilitation services.

It was also explained that if Congress does not act on health care this year, Medicade payments to doctors will be cut by 21 percent, with the expected result that they will stop serving Medicare beneficiaries.

Several benefits of health care reform were delineated including:

  • that the reform will lower drug prices by closing the coverage gap or “donut hole;.”
  • it will make long-term care more affordable and relieve family caregivers’ burdens by creating a new voluntary long-term care services insurance program;
  • it will provide a cash benefit to help seniors and people with disabilities obtain services and supports that will enable them to remain in their homes and communities;
  • it will improve the quality and coordination of treatment and management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure;
  • it will make it easier for seniors in greatest need to get help with paying rapidly rising Medicare premiums and other health expenses;
  • it strengthens Medicare for the future by adding extra years to its fiscal health.

On Wednesday, during a speech announcing that he will retire from the Senate, Chris Dodd emphasized that his Christmas eve vote for health care reform was “the most important vote of my years in Congress.”




Tom Connolly
Tom Connolly

Tom Connolly is a retiree labor and social justice activist writing from Connecticut.