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How Will the New Healthcare Reform Law Affect Seniors and Older Americans?

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Updated March 26, 2010

Question: How Will the New Healthcare Reform Law Affect Seniors and Older Americans?

Though the bill has passed, many senior citizens and older Americans may continue to be concerned or confused about how and if changes will affect their care and access to it.

Answer:

With passage of the healthcare reform law in 2010, there are a handful of changes senior citizens and aging Americans should be aware of:

Changes to Government Medicare Benefits

There are two main upgrades to the quality and cost of care that seniors can look forward to:

  • Wellness and Prevention Services:
    From annual checkups to cancer screenings, many preventive services will be free for those who receive Medicare. No co-pays or deductibles will be required. By Fall 2011, Medicare patients will have access to a comprehensive health risk assessment and a free personalized prevention plan to help them and their doctors continue to focus on wellness instead of just illness.

  • The prescription drug "donut hole"
    The gap in the coverage of drugs for Medicare patients -- will close over the five years it will take to implement healthcare reform. That gap amounted to more than $3600 in 2010, for which seniors who have been affected by the donut hole will receive a partial rebate. Over the next several years, seniors will be responsible for less and less of the cost of their drugs, depending on their income levels.

    Changes to Private Medicare Benefit Programs - Medicare Advantage Programs

    Prior to passage of the healthcare reform law, private insurers were paid by the US government to manage Medicare programs on the government's behalf. The government would pay these insurers for the service, and the insurers would turn around and offer additional services to seniors who qualified for Medicare programs.

    One large pool of money went to pay these private insurers extra money, like bonuses, for managing these programs. In turn, the private insurers would provide extra services like dental or vision coverage.

    Since they are private companies, each one will react differently to the changes in reimbursements from the government. There will be no changes (by law) through the end of 2010. It is expected the cost of premiums will go up for the 2011 coverage year.

Addressing Rumors

Rumors about Medicare Cuts
Medicare will cut $400 billion in reimbursements to hospitals over the next several years, but those cuts were pre-arranged with hospitals and were specified for emergency room care. Once 32 million new people have payment coverage, that money will no longer need to be paid to those ERs.

Groups representing the interests of seniors, like the AARP and the Medicare Rights Center, are satisfied that these cuts will not have a negative effect on their members and constituents.

Rumors about Cuts and Decreasing Benefits from Medicare Advantage Programs
Medicare Advantage programs are private programs that have been subsidized, with bonuses, by the government -- meaning, those private companies that offered them got extra money from the government for doing so.

The healthcare reform law will shift the bonus money to the doctors and surgeons who practice in rural areas, providing them with increased reimbursements for treating seniors.

What About All Those Pre-Reform Law Rumors About Decreasing Benefits?

One email, called SENIOR DEATH WARRANTS makes many statements that are untrue.

Another claim, that seniors will be required to undergo end-of-life counseling, is also untrue.

Because there is so much dissention in the United States since passage of the law, and because some politicians have claimed they will work toward repeal of the law, many rumors, including new ones, continue to circulate. If you'd like to determine their veracity on your own, there are places you can look to find analyses of many of these statements:

  • Politifact -- a Pulitzer Prize winning fact checking website from the St. Petersburg Times
  • Factcheck.org -- run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center

Further reading:

What the New Reform Law Will Mean for You from the AARP.

Get the facts about healthcare reform, and avoid the disinformation and fear mongering.

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