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Misleading ads scaring seniors, Medicare advocates say

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Irresponsible, misleading" election ads are needlessly frightening West Virginia seniors, state Bureau of Senior Services staff members and seniors advocates say.

Federal health reform does not "gut" or even cut Medicare benefits as some ads claim, Marcia Meeks, director of the West Virginia State Health Insurance Program said this week. "Seniors actually get more benefits, starting in 2011."

"A lot of misinformation has been put out there during this election, and that's a shame," she said.

"There have been a lot of inaccurate, misleading things on the news and the Web," said Gaylene Miller, state AARP director.

"It's important for people to know that doctor visits, prescription drugs, outpatient visits, durable medical equipment, medical procedures, none of that will be cut back," Miller said. "It's also important for them to know about their new benefits."

For the past month, Bureau of Senior Services staff members, the AARP and other advocates have conducted informational sessions all over the state.

"A few days ago, seniors in Ceredo-Kenova told me TV ads were scaring them to death," Meeks said.

In addition to traditional benefits, Miller said, Medicare patients can now also get:

 

  • Free preventative tests, such as mammograms, bone-density scans and colonoscopies through Medicare. Before, they had to pay at least 20 percent.
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  • Free yearly wellness checkups instead of only one free checkup when they join Medicare. "We're going to see more problems caught early," Meeks said.
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  • Freedom from the infamous "doughnut hole," in which Medicare recipients have had to pay the full cost of their medication. Next year, the cost of name-brand medication in the doughnut hole will be cut in half. By 2019, the cost will be eliminated.
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    "There's a special place in hell for people who will scare senior citizens for partisan political purposes," Perry Bryant, director of West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, said Thursday. "It's very troubling, because this law makes Medicare more secure than it's ever been.

    "It's frustrating to see irresponsible, misleading political ads try to get seniors to vote against their own interests," he said.

    Ads by the John Raese senatorial campaign and the Republican National Senatorial Committee "make it look like people's benefits are being cut, when actually it's fraud and overpayments being cut," he said.

    Raese got a "pants on fire" award last week from the national truth-in-election-ads project, Politifact, for his debate statement that, under health reform, Medicare patients must visit "a bureaucrat" before they can get treatment.

    Congressional candidate "Spike Maynard has said on at least two talk shows that health-care reform won't let some seniors get knee replacements because they don't have enough years to live," Bryant said. "That's just, flat out, not true."

    The new law will slow Medicare's growth rate from 6.8 percent per year to 5.5 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office, through elimination of fraud and overpayment. That extends the Medicare Trust Fund for 12 years. "The Trust Fund was going to run out in 2017," Bryant said. "Now it goes to 2029."

    For instance:

     

  • The reform law cracks down heavily on Medicare fraud and abuse. "They will screen billing much more thoroughly up front and greatly expand fraud investigation and fraud prosecution," he said. "That will save a lot of money."
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  • Medicare no longer will pay insurance companies inflated rates for Medicare Advantage services. "This appears to be what the Raese ads call cuts to Medicaid services," he said. Some private companies were charging up to 13 percent extra for services, he said. "No good business would put up with that."
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  • Medicare no longer will pay for medical problems hospitals cause. "If the hospital causes the problem, the hospital must bear the cost, not the taxpayers." If a hospital discharges a patient too early, and the patient comes back within 30 days, Medicare also will not pay full freight.
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  • Soon, states can apply for millions to coordinate their community and hospital services, he said. "When seniors have follow-up care after the hospital, they are less likely to go back in the hospital," Bryant said.
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    Currently, about 30 percent of hospital patients go back into the hospital at Medicare expense within 30 days of discharge, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. "We'll see better discharge planning," Bryant said.

    Miller urged West Virginians to get the facts about the new law. "Do not simply believe what you see on TV," she said. "Find a trusted source."

    Meeks said the Bureau of Senior Services is glad to talk with any senior and also can help seniors who cannot afford their monthly premiums. "The Affordable Care Act [health reform] provides funding for that," she said.

    The Bureau's Medicare Help Line is 877-987-4463. The website is www.wvship.org.

    Reach Kate Long at katelong@wvgazette.com">katelong@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.


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