"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)


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Week: 587.6 Pt. A 

Guests: Sen. Bob Kerrey (D.NE), Martha Phillips (Concord Coalition), Susan Pisano (health care lobbyist, Humana, Kaiser Permanente), Kirsten Sloan (AARP) 

Topic: Final Medicare measure 

Reporter: Aaron Cohen 

Host/Producer: Steve Girard 

NEMA: Thanks for staying with us. A new day is dawning for senior citizens enrolled in the Medicare health care program, but the future is unsettled for millions of baby boomers who will retire in the next decade because congress did little to effect them....Aaron Cohen has Health on the Hill...  

COHEN: Today’s Medicare beneficiaries may see changes right away...slightly higher premiums rising for the next few years, more insurance options for retirees coming into the Medicare market, plus greater coverage for preventative medicine...things like cancer screenings. Congress included funding to curtail massive fraud and abuse in the growing home health care market...but stopped short of making long term fixes to a system that could go bankrupt in a couple of decades...when baby boomers begin retiring. Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey convinced the Senate to overhaul Medicare from top to bottom, but his plans were eventually shot down in a conference with the house...  

KERRY: I think we missed an opportunity...because the sooner you do it, the smaller the change is and the more planning that people have a chance to do. This is a plan, a problem that tends to occur in the year 2010, which is not too far away...it’s 13 years away. So, with a commission, you’re not going to be able to do anything for at least 10 years away, and the closer you get to it, the more costly it is to do it.  

COHEN: Those costs, financial and political, are what killed Senator Kerrey’s plans. The Senate went along with efforts to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, required wealthier seniors to pay more for health coverage and imposed a modest co-payment for home health care, but those changes were political pills much too bitter for the House to swallow. Instead, a bipartisan commission will be appointed to figure out how to keep Medicare solvent in the long run. Balanced budget advocates were disappointed...Martha Phillips, head of the grass roots Concord Coalition, supports a higher eligibility age and means testing for wealthy seniors...that died in conference with the House...  

PHILLIPS: The Commission is both troublesome and encouraging at the same time. I’m troubled by it because I wonder if we need another commission...whether it might provide an excuse just for delay, diversion and even denial. Y’know, people will say, "We can’t do anything, because we’ve got this commission meeting".  

COHEN: ...while the Senate and the Concord Coalition are licking their wounds over what they lost in conference, they are celebrating along with the managed care industry...for the first time, Medicare patients will have choices in health care...they can stay with the traditional fee for service provider they've been using, especially if patients want to keep their doctors,...or they can choose an HMO or preferred provider organization..growing rapidly in the health care field. Susan Pisano represents Kaiser Permanente, Humana and others in the HMO industry...  

PISANO: The advantage of having many health plans available to you, I think there’s several advantages. First of all, many people want to find a health plan where their current physician is participating, and with more health plans, that will be an increasingly available option. The second thing is that people tend to want to choose a health plan that really fits their needs from a medical perspective, but also from a lifestyle perspective. So, the variety of health plans will help beneficiaries to be able to do that.

COHEN: The nation’s most potent lobby for senior citizens approves of the choice options in the Medicare bill....but Kirsten Sloan with the AARP, The American Association of Retired Persons, warns retirees to be cautious....  

SLOAN: There are a lot more coverage options, so beneficiaries will have to pay attention in terms of what their out of pocket costs are, what their benefits are, what the pros and cons are...it’s basically a kitchen table scenario. We’re going to have to sit down and compare, plan to plan...to see what works best for each individual.  

COHEN: Sloan’s AARP, the HMO industry and many in Congress who opposed means testing and raising the eligibility age all agree on one point...that a long term fix is absolutely necessary. Baby boomers begin retiring in about ten years, resulting in more people drawing retirement pay and benefits than there are people in the work force to support them. So if anything, the current congress left for their successors a painful choice that they won’t be able to avoid  

NEMA: Up next...a couple of short stories for you...one on stroke, and another on melanoma and the role your moles play in your cancer risk....  

SPOT: Small pages....big advice on parenting...from infants to teens. What to expect, emotionally and physically, as your child grows. How to develop positive discipline,how to deal with kids and TV, adolescent issues, drug education, fighting, single and step parenting...it’s all in the ‘Little Book of Parenting, available through the National Emergency Medicine Association. Call 1-800-332-6362 for more information.  

Radio program continues with 587.6 Pt. 2 / stroke & Pt. 3 / melanoma