Health Care Summit: Good Start, Big Challenges Ahead
Ed Coyle, director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, describes President Obama’s Health Care Summit in which he participated.
On March 5, I joined several of my colleagues in the labor and progressive communities at President Obama’s health care summit.
President Obama deserves great credit for putting together a diverse, bipartisan group to sit down together to discuss this issue. There was a strong sense of cooperation from a wide range of elected officials and organizations around the table.
But even with this good start, I believe this is going to be a big test for all of us. The real challenge will come when the details of health care reform are proposed. Make no mistake—sharp lines will be drawn as this plays out in Washington. Retirees and workers must stay educated and mobilized to make sure that every American has access to quality health care.
I believe that any health care legislation Congress passes must strengthen and expand Medicare. Medicare has been a great American success story, helping millions of retirees afford medical treatment and get prescriptions filled. But to truly reform health care, we must strengthen Medicare so it can better help our growing retiree population.
There are several ways we can do this:
- Lower the cost of prescription drugs by closing the “donut hole” coverage gap in Medicare Part D and allowing Medicare to negotiate volume discounts with drug manufacturers. The Veterans Affairs does this and its prescriptions cost 30 percent less.
- Support President Obama’s call to end the wasteful taxpayer subsidies—$176 billion over the next 10 years—to private insurance companies who operate Medicare Advantage plans. We are paying them up to 20 percent more than what it would cost Medicare to provide similar service. Every senior enrolled in Medicare pays an extra $3 per month because of this corporate welfare.
- Provide early retirees, ages 55-64, the option to purchase Medicare coverage. There are 5.1 million Americans in this age group who lack health insurance, many of them victim of mass layoffs. Just think how our nation’s health care costs would go down if they were to have regular, preventive medical care during this critical period of their lives.
In the 2008 elections, all of us knocked on doors and made phone calls to demand sweeping changes in our health care system. The result: a president, a Congress and a political climate now primed for action. Working together, we can make 2009 the year we turn historic opportunity into lasting change.