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How Will the Proposed Health Care Reform Affect Older Americans?


Updated August 21, 2009

Question: How Will the Proposed Health Care Reform Affect Older Americans?
There is a lot of heated debate about how health care reform will affect older Americans.

Senior citizens and older Americans worry that health care reform will have a negative impact on their Medicare benefits. Many people worry that the sickest and most frail older American's will be encouraged to "give up care" and choose hospice instead or be forced to undergo "death panels".

Many false claims are being made and truths are being twisted. It's more important now than ever to understand what health care reform will mean to you.

So how will health care reform really affect older Americans?

Answer: As of now, senior citizens and older American's who are covered by Medicare will be less affected by health care reform than other citizens. American's over 65 years of age (and some who are younger and permanently disabled) qualify for Medicare, which is funded and run by the federal government. Medicare recipients won't experience a drastic change in how they receive medical care. They won't have to worry about choosing an insurance company, whether they have to opt-in or opt-out of public coverage, or whether they will be affected by rationing.

How will health care reform affect my Medicare Benefit?

President Obama has said that health care reform won't cut Medicare benefits but this isn't entirely true. There are three separate versions of the health care reform bill in the house and each one contains hundreds of pages on how reform would affect Medicare. If we look at the worst-case scenario -- the bill that proposes the most drastic changes to Medicare -- some seniors could indeed see some cuts to Medicare.

About one-fifth of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage programs. Medicare Advantage programs are run by private insurance companies and include all the benefits of traditional Medicare plus prescription drug coverage and other services not covered under traditional Medicare. These programs cost American's the most money are are the target of Medicare cut-backs in the reform bill.

Those enrolled in Medicare Advantage programs may see a reduction in the "extra" services those programs provide but will see no reduction in their traditional Medicare benefits. For the four-fifths of Americans enrolled in traditional Medicare, they shouldn't see any change to their existing benefits.

What About Those Mandatory Death Panels?

"Death panels" are just one of several myths surrounding the health care reform debate and we can thank Sarah Palin for setting this topic on fire. The idea of this myth is that the government would require senior citizens to undergo end-of-life planning consultations every five years. This has lead some people to hysteria, claiming that the federal government wants to kill off our old people to save money and push people into hospice care.

The truth is that the health care reform bill includes a provision allowing Medicare to reimburse physician's for end-of-life consultation visits. It would not require that all Medicare recipients undergo these consultations, just that if a doctor does discuss your end-of-life wishes with you that he can get paid for it. Included in one of these consultations would be discussions on advance directives, living wills, and reviewing all available treatment options, including hospice care.

Take some time to learn more about How Health Care Reform Will Affect End-of-Life Care.

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