On Mother’s Day, Cantwell Fights to Preserve Medicare for Washington Seniors
Cantwell sent letter to President Obama opposing ‘reckless and irresponsible’ Medicare cuts that are on the table in budget negotiations Nearly 500,000 Washingtonians would have Medicare turned to vouchers when they retire, under House budget
SEATTLE, WA – On Mother’s Day, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined with Seattle-area mothers and fathers to call on President Obama and budget negotiators to reject a House budget that would gut Medicare and threaten seniors’ health care.
This week, the White House and Congressional budget negotiators will resume discussions for the fiscal year 2012 budget. House leaders have said that their budget – which would turn Medicare into a voucher program – is ‘on the table’ in those talks.
On Thursday, Cantwell joined 49 other Senators in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to protect America’s seniors and oppose the House budget. Under the House plan, Nearly 500,000 Washingtonians – now ages 50 to 54 -- would not get Medicare when they retire. Instead, they’d get vouchers and pay twice as much out-of-pocket for health care, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“This Mother’s Day, we are standing up to protect Medicare for future generations,” Senator Cantwell said Sunday at a press conference at Kawabe Memorial House, a Seattle retirement housing community. “Under the irresponsible House plan, seniors who could still afford health care insurance would pay twice as much out-of-pocket, while others would lose coverage altogether. We need to make tough budget decisions in Washington, but we should not be balancing the budget on the backs of seniors.”
Cantwell was joined Sunday by Ingrid McDonald of AARP Washington, Dr. Marcus Rempel of Neighborcare Health and other Washingtonians who would be affected by Medicare cuts.
Last month, the House passed its fiscal year 2012 budget, designed by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI-01). The Ryan budget would make deep cuts to Medicare and turn it into a private voucher system that would fail to keep pace with increases in the cost of health care and seniors would have to pay higher premiums. With these higher costs, future seniors would not be able to get the benefits they need or could end up uninsured.
The House plan would reopen the prescription drug ‘donut hole’ and would force seniors to pay more for essential medications. In Washington state next year, more than 60,000 seniors would be impacted by the donut hole and have to pay $38 million more for prescription drugs under the proposed House plan. In King County alone, nearly 17,000 seniors would face higher prescription drug costs –$9.5 million next year and $190 million through 2020.
The proposed House budget would also turn Medicaid into block grants, shifting the cost burden onto the state and forcing at least 295,000 residents off Medicaid. Washington state would receive far less federal investment than other states under the block grant system because funding levels are based on current state Medicaid spending. Washington state’s Medicaid spending levels ($4,665 per enrollee) are relatively low compared to the U.S. average ($5,153 per enrollee).
“We are writing to commend you for your opposition to turning Medicare into a voucher system as proposed in the House Republican’s FY2012 budget,” Cantwell and 49 other senators wrote in a letter to President Obama last week. “The House Republican budget for Fiscal Year 2012 would end Medicare as we know it and throw seniors into the private market with no more than an insufficient voucher to offset the rising cost of private health insurance. So-called ‘premium support’ – giving seniors a voucher of approximately $8,000 as proposed by the Republican budget – is a reckless and irresponsible way to address the health care needs of older Americans.”
The full text of the letter sent to President Obama on Thursday, May 5th follows:
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to commend you for your opposition to turning Medicare into a voucher system as proposed in the House Republican’s FY2012 budget. Since the enactment of Medicare in 1965, America’s seniors have no longer lived in fear of losing affordable, comprehensive health insurance when they retire. Unfortunately, some in Congress want to dismantle Medicare in order to help offset the costs of tax cuts for the very wealthiest in our country.
The House Republican budget for Fiscal Year 2012 would end Medicare as we know it and throw seniors into the private market with no more than an insufficient voucher to offset the rising cost of private health insurance. So-called “premium support” – giving seniors a voucher of approximately $8,000 as proposed by the Republican budget – is a reckless and irresponsible way to address the health care needs of older Americans. And it is an unacceptable means by which to finance tax cuts for those who are earning ten times or more than the retirement income of the average Medicare recipient.
Seniors, who have paid into the system their entire working lives, deserve affordable, secure health coverage upon retirement. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in the first year of the voucher program, out-of-pocket expenses for seniors would double under the Republican plan to more than $12,500 annually. For seniors on a fixed income, a doubling of out-of-pocket expenses is simply unaffordable, particularly when the average Social Security benefit is only $14,000 per year.
The Republican budget proposal would not keep pace with the rate of inflation for health care, meaning seniors would pay ever higher out-of-pocket costs. Under the proposal, the annual increase for the vouchers will fall short of the actual rate of inflation for health care – meaning out-of-pocket expenses for seniors will continue to soar. And to make matters worse, the Republican budget would repeal the only credible means of restraining health care costs – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
While deficit reduction is essential, balancing the budget by dismantling Medicare is both unfair to hard-working Americans and counterproductive. Seniors who are unable to afford Medicare or its equivalent will skip preventive services, not take necessary medication, and delay treatment leading to potentially undetected illnesses and more expensive care. If Medicare is turned into a voucher system and the health reform law is dismantled, millions of seniors will be left under- or uninsured. This will add to the burden on our nation’s already overwhelmed emergency rooms and result in increased demands on Medicaid as seniors exhaust their life savings.
Before the passage of Medicare, only half of America’s seniors had health insurance, and most of those with insurance only had coverage for inpatient hospital costs. Additionally, approximately 30 percent of seniors lived below the poverty line before Medicare. Now, only 1.8 percent lack health coverage and less than 9 percent live below the poverty line. We cannot afford to reverse these gains through the ultimate form of rationing health care for seniors: the replacement of Medicare as we know it with insufficient vouchers for private health coverage.
We urge you to protect America’s seniors and oppose any attempts to dismantle Medicare.
Senator Sherrod Brown Senator Harry Reid
Senator Max Baucus Senator Jon Tester
Senator Mark Begich Senator Jeff Merkley
Senator Jack Reed Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Barbara Mikulski Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Senator Dianne Feinstein Senator John F. Kerry
Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka Senator Barbara Boxer
Senator Jeff Bingaman Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Bernard Sanders Senator Mark Udall
Senator Robert Menendez Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Kent Conrad Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Tim Johnson Senator Richard Blumenthal
Senator Mary Landrieu Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
Senator Dick Durbin Senator Al Franken
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse Senator Tom Harkin
Senator Patty Murray Senator Chris Coons
Senator Daniel Inouye Senator Mark Warner
Senator Michael Bennet Senator Joe Manchin
Senator Claire McCaskill Senator John D. Rockefeller IV
Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Jeanne Shaheen Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Tom Udall Senator Herb Kohl
Senator Ben Nelson Senator Jim Webb
Senator Maria Cantwell Senator Kay Hagan
Senator Mark Pryor Senator Bill Nelson
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