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ISSUE CLASH: Will health care reform help or hurt senior citizens?

The Panelists

John Rother
Executive Vice President, AARP
Jim Martin
President, 60 Plus Association


Answers

John Rother: It's time to cut through the myths and scare tactics that are distracting the country from a civil debate about how best to reform our broken health care system. The fact is, older Americans use more health services than any other age group, and they are among those with the most to gain from reforms that improve quality and lower costs. For our members in Medicare, we're fighting for improvements that will lower prescription drug costs, maintain access to their doctors and improve the quality of their care.

For those age 50 to 64 without employer sponsored coverage—who often find themselves in the health insurance "no man's land"—health reform will guarantee they can get an insurance policy even if they have a pre-existing health condition or lose their job, and it will ensure they won't be priced out of the market just because of their age.

Jim Martin: Seniors will benefit from the right kind of health care reform that protects and enhances the Medicare system they have paid into most of their lives, and expands options and encourages new doctors and nurses into the medical profession.

Unfortunately the reform currently being proposed is devastating to the health care of most seniors in our country, and is about as helpful as placing the steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum in front of their doctors' office.

President Obama has proposed adding tens of millions of new people to a government health care plan, while cutting Medicare by over $500 billion. Meanwhile no new doctors will be added. It is clear that as government obligations grow and resources shrink, seniors will be most harmed.

Seniors are an especially informed group. Polls by Kaiser and Pew show fewer than 30 percent of seniors support health care reform. They ought to be listened to.

Rebuttals

John Rother: AARP shares Mr. Martin's belief that health care reform should ensure older Americans have the health care they need. That's why we're fighting for reforms that protect the Medicare benefits people have earned and preserve their choice of doctor.

To protect Medicare for current and future generations, AARP is also fighting to save Medicare money, such as stopping billions in excess subsidies to private insurance companies—which cost tax dollars and drive up Medicare premiums. We also need to lower drug prices and root out waste in Medicare to save money and lower costs for older Americans. Much of the savings in Medicare will be used to pay doctors fairly, so we can ensure every senior has a choice of doctor and that all medical decisions are between the patient and his or her doctor. Finally, AARP is pushing to improve Medicare by adding better drug coverage and preventive care.

Jim Martin: One would think that a group claiming to fight for seniors would be up in arms over $500 billion in cuts to Medicare, but amazingly AARP completely ignores this fact. Reform of the current system means adding tens of millions of new people, which means seniors have the most to lose with health care reform, not gain. AARP offers no outside sources for its listed "myths" so allow me to add one. This is from the Aug. 20 edition of the New York Times: "Bills now in Congress would squeeze savings out of Medicare, a lifeline for the elderly, on the assumption that doctors and hospitals can be more efficient."

Simply put, seniors are trading a "sure thing"—$500 billion in cuts, for an assumption that government can be more efficient. Both common sense and the government's track record on "efficiency" say not to take that bet.

Follow ups:

John Rother: Twice now, Mr. Martin has falsely noted that covering more Americans would hurt those with coverage. What he doesn't say is today's 46 million uninsured Americans already get care, they just get it in the most expensive ways—like ER visits—and taxpayers foot the bill.

Mr. Martin goes on to promote continuing to waste billions of tax dollars on fraud and excess insurance company profits, rather than strengthening Medicare and making it more affordable.

When he calls Medicare a "sure thing," he fails to realize that the skyrocketing costs of health care will soon make it anything but a safe bet. That's why we're fighting for reforms that will lower costs to beneficiaries as well as the program, increase quality and target waste.

If Mr. Martin wants seniors to gamble, he should take them to Vegas—but health care is too important to continue with the status quo.

Jim Martin: Mr. Rother correctly points out that seniors receive the bulk of health care services, which means that they have the most to lose—not gain—from reform that cuts resources while adding tens of millions of new participants.

Many promises sound good, but Washington historically under-delivers for health care services. Their record on efficiency is atrocious. If eliminating waste, fraud and abuse will "save" Medicare as they claim, then why don't they eliminate the waste NOW? I believe this question answers itself.

The two groups most opposed to health care overhaul are doctors and seniors, who also happen to be the most informed and invested in health care in America. I am dumbfounded as to why AARP chooses to believe Washington over the wisdom and experience of doctors and AARP's own constituency.

The opinions expressed belong solely to the participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOW, PBS, or local stations. The facts stated by the participants have not been verified by NOW.