News

Senior drug talks

By JESSIE STENSLAND

Staff reporter

Sen. Maria Cantwell wound up a series of Medicare town hall meetings with a small but attentive group of folks at Oak Harbor Senior Center last Friday.

Her message was that the new Medicare prescription drug bill is deeply flawed, but that she’ll work to fix the problems. “We are digging in,” she said. “We are not giving up.”

She said the meetings were also to educate seniors and others about the bill and to talk to them about their concerns. Cantwell, who voted against the bill, received thousands of letters from state residents who were overwhelmingly opposed to the bill.

“This is something where we are going to find more problems,” she said. “Seniors are beginning to feel like second-class citizens because they don’t get the same kind of health care that the rest of the population does.”

The dozen people at the meeting — including Mayor Patty Cohen, City Councilmember Sue Karahalios and Senior Center Director Howard Thomas — expressed concern about how the city’s growing population of seniors will be able to afford health care and what effect the bill will have on them.

“It’s really sad to see seniors play games with their medications, ration themselves,” Roxanne Dunn-Terry, senior center activities director, said. “Their quality of life should be better than that.”

Cantwell said she’s found that many seniors don’t understand the complexities of the drug benefit. She argued that the law is really an attempt by the Republicans to begin privatizing Medicare, which she feels is a bad idea. She pointed to the mess that private insurance companies have made of the nation’s health care system.

“I don’t think managed care has produced the results we want,” she said. “States have done a better job.”

Other concerns with the law that Cantwell pointed to include the lack of cost controls on drugs and health care, and the so-called “doughnut” in coverage. About 155,000 seniors in the state who pay their monthly premiums won’t get any of the benefits they expect, according to Cantwell press secretary Charla Newman. About 90,000 residents will end up paying more for drugs.

The bill lowers the state’s Medicare reimbursement rate ranking, which is a major concern for rural areas like Whidbey Island. The problem is that hospitals and doctors in the state get lower Medicare reimbursements for services than do hospitals and doctors in most other states. Because of the law, the state’s ranking fell from 41st to 45th.

“Another thing that doesn’t get much coverage,” Newman said, “is cancer care. The state could lose up to $11.5 billion in cancer care funding for cancer care facilities.”

While there is little to no chance of repealing the law, Cantwell said she is working to fix each oversight or inequity.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle now that the bill is passed and people aren’t focusing on the issue anymore,” Newman said. “But I think there are some problems that can be solved with small bills.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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