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Pingree and Michaud Talk with AARP Members

June 16, AARP Maine hosted a telephone town hall meeting with Congressman Mike Michaud and AARP’s health policy expert, Rhonda Richards. Approximately two thousand AARP member households from Maine’s Second Congressional District had the opportunity to ask questions about the new federal health care law and to hear answers from Michaud and Richards.

The AARP members who participated posed very thoughtful questions. One member from Franklin County asked what incentives the new law will put in place to promote disease prevention, not only to prevent diseases before they progress, but to also avoid the high costs of treating diseases. Michaud told his audience that the new health care law requires insurance plans to provide free screening and preventive services to patients. In addition, Richards noted that there will be greater emphasis on follow-up care in order to prevent unnecessary returns to the hospital.

Another AARP member, from Penobscot County, asked how the federal government plans to fund the new programs under the law. The Congressman responded that money for the new programs will not be borrowed, but that $450 billion will come from the elimination of waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare system, and the elimination of unnecessary procedures. Additionally, excise tax on the “Cadillac” (or “high-cost”) health insurance plans will fund the new law.

July 7, AARP Maine hosted a second telephone town hall meeting with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and AARP health policy expert, Gerry Smolka. Over 2500 AARP members from Maine’s First Congressional District joined this conversation about the new health law.

A Lincoln County AARP member expressed her concern about the cost of prescription drugs, and asked when the Medicare Part D ‘doughnut hole’ will be closed. Smolka told listeners that the cost of prescription drugs will gradually be lowered until Medicare Part D beneficiaries pay only 25% of their prescription costs. She said starting in 2011, brand-name prescription drugs will cost 50% less, and generic drugs will cost 7% less. Discounts will continue to be applied until the ‘donut hole’ is closed in 2020. Congresswoman Pingree recognized that the high cost of prescription drugs is a major issue, and she had hoped that the law would have done more to lower costs, but said the new law provides a good start. Now that the bill has passed, she looks forward to working on new legislation that will close the coverage gap more quickly than the projected ten years.

Another member from Sagadahoc County asked whether his wife who has Parkinson’s Disease would be eligible for long-term care services under the new law. Smolka responded that while new programs available to states may provide some help, workers will soon be able to receive long-term care insurance through the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program. The CLASS program will start enrolling people in 2012 but employees must pay into the program for five years before they can get any benefits so it is not available to current retirees. Pingree added that the CLASS program will be good for employees who are concerned about how they will pay for their future long-term care needs.

AARP Maine offered to provide more information about the health care law for those who participated in the calls. Find more information online www.aarp.org/getthefacts or contact Greg Cross at gcross@aarp.org.

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