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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Courier
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Media Coverage

Crowley reports on Medicare plan cuts

Recent budget cuts proposed by the Republican wing of the House of Representatives have caused Queens communities to worry about the future of key social programs.

U.S. Congressmember Joe Crowley, a Democrat that represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, unveiled a report last week highlighting the effects of changes to Medicare and Medicaid in a proposed Republican budget plan for the 2012 federal fiscal year.

“We are not going to let them undo what we [Democrats] have already put in place,” Crowley said to a packed room of residents in Jackson Heights at Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group.

The switch to a voucher-based Medicare system proposed in the budget plan could increase medical costs for thousands of seniors in Crowley’s seventh congressional district.

The proposed budget plan would eliminate the federal government’s role as a public health insurer. Instead, those on Medicare would have to join private health plans and receive a subsidy from the government to help pay their medical bills. If those bills exceed the voucher limit, patients could incur more out-of-pockets costs.

According to Crowley’s report, costs for an average Medicare beneficiary would increase by $520 in the 2012 federal fiscal year (from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012). The report also outlines the impact of the proposed budget cuts on soon-to-be retirees and working families – all of which allude to rising medical costs.

For those families in Jackson Heights, the possibility of increased costs is a harbinger of tougher economic times ahead.

“Eventually that will lead a lot of senior citizens into bankruptcy or some kind of financial situation that they can dig themselves out of because they’re on a fixed income,” said Tony Lopez, 45.

Lopez’s father has been retired for 15 years and has high blood pressure and diabetes. He would be responsible for any additional medical supply costs for both conditions if the plan prevails. Medicare and the Affordable Care Act currently cover the entire bill for those supplies, he said.

Crowley’s district encompasses Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Maspeth, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and College Point and eastern portions of the Bronx. About 13.1 percent of his constituency are 65 years old and over and around 94 percent depend on Medicare.

In lieu of rising medical costs, Republicans have argued that their proposal is the best way to streamline a program that might be in danger of collapse. Some Democrats agree that Medicare needs a change.

But what the two sides disagree on is who will ultimately have to foot the bill for those rising costs: the insurance companies or the patients?

Dahlia Remler, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College said that Republicans have sided with the insurances companies whom will have to find ways to contain those costs, while Democrats argue that patients will have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay the cost difference.

In the ongoing round of budget negotiations, President Obama and White House administration officials have suggested cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. But the extent of those cuts would depend on whether Republicans are willing to agree on increases in tax revenues to reduce the federal budget deficit.

The issue is not as cut and dry as many politicians say it is. Despite the polemics between Republicans and Democrats to spin the issue for political gain, the debate over health care policy is ambiguous and convoluted.

While the debate continues, both sides are not clear on how to tackle the complex issue without dramatically affecting the program or its beneficiaries.

“It doesn’t actually fit very well into the usual political framework,” said Remler. “No politician wants to give bad news and there’s sort of no way to escape that here.”

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