Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Health Care Reform and Montgomery County Seniors—Sen. Mikulski’s Leisure World Town Hall

Today, I joined a colleague and ‘champion in the fight for quality healthcare,’ Senator Barbara Mikulski, as she hosted a health care town hall at Leisure World in Silver Spring. Being present today was important to me as we all continue the necessary dialogue around health care reform, what it means for you and me, and especially how it affects our senior Montgomery County residents. Others additionally addressing the Leisure World seniors were County Executive Isiah Leggett; Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging, Administration on Aging (AoA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Jordan L. Harding, President of the Democratic Club of Leisure World.

Senator Mikulski spoke briefly to the empathetic group of her recent and very personal experience of needing in-home medical support. She went on to share that as she worked with fellow senators on crafting Health Reform legislation she found herself “living the need” that faces many Montgomery County residents and numerous American citizens; and that any reform efforts at the federal, state, or city council levels of government begins with people first and then finding the “will and wrought” to bring programs to fruition. I couldn’t have said it better.

The overarching tone by Mikulski in speaking about “The Affordable Care Act” (more commonly called “Health Care Reform”) was of one of transparency and the necessity of sticking to the facts. She firmly said, “No one will come between you and your doctor—not the government and not the insurance company! ... The Health Reform is the USA way, not the U.K. way; it does not involve the government interfering.” A summary of Senator Mikulski’s bulleted presentation on the new Health Care Reform follows:
  • You Can Keep the Doctor You Have
  • Annual Wellness Visits with the doctor of your choice (to audit your healthcare status and thus better enable prevention and early detection)
  •  Elimination of Co Pays and Deductibles for Prevention Screenings for both men and women (mammograms, heart disease screening, prostate screenings, cholesterol screenings)


Assistant Secretary Greenlee presented on the often-talked-about-but-seldom-clear issue of “Closing of the Doughnut Hole,” where the new legislation intends to phase out the “doughnut hole” effect created by Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit offered by the federal Medicare program. Following are key points from her presentation:
  • Starting June 10, 2010 a one-time $250 rebate check will be automatically mailed to seniors who hit the doughnut hole in 2010
  • Beginning January 1, 2011, seniors who become affected by the doughnut hole will (i) receive a 50% discount on brand name drugs and (ii) receive a 7% discount on generic drugs

There were several questions directed at both Senator Mikulski and Assistant Secretary Greenlee on efforts to thwart growing physician resistance to accepting Medicaid patients, the effects of the reform on Veteran’s Affairs and the TRICARE health care program, and fighting Medicare fraud. Mikulski shared that Medicare Fraud was indeed a federal crime and those convicted faced stiff penalties according to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, including serious jail time.

One last bit of information shared by Assistant Secretary Greenlee was the significant news that next year the Open Enrollment period necessary for seniors to participate in the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plan will begin earlier, and will run from October 15, 2011 to December 7, 2011. This year’s Annual Coordinated Election Period will be from November 15 to December 31.

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