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Seniors: Hands off our Medicare

Posted: August 15, 2009 8:14 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The minute any mention of cutting Medicare comes up, Bob Merriman gets nervous.

“I am extremely concerned,” Merriman said about threats of Medicare cuts under the proposed federal reforms to health care. “It’s a pie, and there’s only so many pieces in the pie,” he said.

The 61-year-old Newhall resident doesn’t use Medicare, but his wife, Jodi Merriman, does. She is disabled.

President Barack Obama took to the road assuring crowds in town hall meetings that Medicare cuts are not on the table after critics of health care reform claimed that upward of $160 million of Medicare benefits would be trimmed under the Obama plan.

Mark Beach, spokesman for the American Association of Retired Persons, said any provisions calling for cuts in Medicare would never stand a chance of making it into the final version of the bill. AARP would play an active role in stomping out any such language, he said.

“AARP will vigorously oppose any cuts in Medicare,” he said.

Health care reform proponents including the president continue to beat the drum that senior citizens won’t have to worry about cuts to Medicare.

Despite the assurances, rumors of Medicare cuts are infectious and spreading among senior citizens nationwide.

Santa Clarita isn’t immune.

“Part of the problem is the cuts at the state level to senior programs,” said Brad Berens, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. “That is propagating the fear that seniors have of the changes proposed in Washington.”

With recent cuts to senior centers statewide and a state-budget crisis, senior citizens are extra sensitive when it comes to any talk about Medicare, Berens added.     

Merriman said there are other reasons to be fearful that go far beyond any cuts, real or imagined, to Medicare.

“Common sense says when you bring more people in to take from the pie, there will be rationing,” he said.

Proponents of the bill have talked around the rationing claims made by critics, saying health care is already rationed by private insurance companies.

Merriman’s fears run deeper than rationing or cuts to Medicare. He sees the proposed reforms to health care as a step toward socialism.

“I am extremely concerned,” he said. “There’s is a concerted effort to move our health care system to a socialist system, and that scares me.”

While Merriman remains fearful of socialized medicine, he distinguishes between what he sees as socialism and the government-funded aid his wife receives.

“In some ways it seems hypocritical, but in my final analysis this is a form of assistance and I’ve earned it through paying taxes,” he said. “I believe in a safety net, but a single-payer system is not what our forefathers intended.”  

The Medicare fears are the most recent concerns swirling around health care reform. Members of Congress, the AARP and Obama spent almost a week attempting to disprove claims that reforms meant government-supported euthanasia.

A provision in the House bill provided Medicare reimbursements for end-of-life counseling. Under the plan, medical counselors could advise people over 65 on medical directives, living wills and hospice care.     

Republicans succeeded in having the language pulled from the Senate version of the bill Thursday.

“It was an act of political cowardice on the part of the Senate,” Beach said. “This was a provision supported by the AMA (the American Medical Association).”

The provision was also not new to Congress.

Just a year ago, Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation requiring doctors to discuss issues like living wills and advance directives with new Medicare enrollees.

And the government already requires hospitals and nursing homes to help patients with those legal documents if they want support under a 1992 law passed under Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Berens said older people who receive end-of-life counseling are better equipped to make difficult decisions that could save their loved ones thousands of dollars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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