Everyone Has a Different Opinion on Medicare, Home Health Copays at Forum

Sherry West of Clearwater talks about how she wishes the United States could have a health care system citizens could be proud of during a Medicare forum co-sponsored by AARP and the Tampa Bay Times at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Holding the microphone is Michelle Cyr, associate state director for advocacy for AARP.

By Patti Ewald, Tampa Bay Times

There is only one thing everyone agrees on about Medicare: The other guy is wrong.

And it’s not just the Democrats and Republicans who feel that way.

The 50 people at a forum Thursday night on the topic listened politely as AARP state director Jeff Johnson led a discussion. But at every break in the action, hands shot in the air for a turn to talk.

The event was hosted by the Tampa Bay Times and AARP at the Poynter Institute, which owns the Times.

Johnson, moderating one in a series of AARP’s national You’ve Earned a Say initiative, put five proposals — one at a time — on a screen in front of the audience, which had been given voting clickers on the way in.

Differing opinions could be heard even before the voting started on facts laid out by Johnson and his co-moderator, PolitiFact Florida editor Angie Holan, who was there to tell the group about theTimes’ fact-checking website.

Johnson told the group AARP, which is nonpartisan, decided to hold these forums so everyone’s voice could be heard in Washington, D.C., as the clock ticks down to 2024 when the trust fund that pays for Medicare is depleted.

According to recent polling, 59 percent of Florida boomers say they will have to rely on Social Security and Medicare even more in retirement because of the recent economic downturn. But almost 50 percent feel that their voices will not make a difference in Washington, D.C.

Several audience members, three-quarters of whom receive Medicare, didn’t believe the trust fund would be depleted — or, if it was, it wouldn’t matter.

“We need a hospital that will deal with us at a reduced rate,” Jim Kegler, 63, of Largo said. “If the rate’s so low, the hospital can’t afford it, the population will deal with it.”

In one of the rare instances of agreement, a woman who identified herself as a registered nurse put the blame on doctors, saying no one was monitoring them.

Another registered nurse, Sherry West, 65, of Clearwater added: “We don’t have health care; we have disease care. We need real health care reform.”

Susan Coffey, 56, of St. Petersburg said the qualifying age shouldn’t be raised because people won’t be able to get insurance in the gap.

“Health care is a right, not a privilege,” she said. “No insurance company wants you after 50.”

AARP will collect participants’ responses and share them with members of Congress and candidates for president. To take part and to learn more, go to aarp.cvent.com or call (877) 926-8300 toll-free.

If you are interested in seeing what else the local audience had to say, Bay News 9 plans to air the discussion at noon Friday on Bay News 9 On Demand, Channel 342 on Bright House Networks digital cable.

The proposals and the audience votes

Should the qualifying age be raised from 65 to 67?

  • 56 percent said leave it where it is; 35 percent said raise it; and 10 percent said neither.

Should the premium for higher-income people be raised another 15 percent?

  • 55 percent said yes; 24 percent said no; 20 percent said neither.

Should Medicare be changed to a premium support plan?

  • 0 percent said yes; 86 percent said leave it as it is; 14 percent said have a premium support plan with a Medicare option.

Should drug companies be required to give rebates or discounts to Medicare?

  • 85 percent said yes; 15 percent said no.

Should a 20 percent co-pay be instituted on things such as home health care and skilled nursing facilities?

  • 27 percent said yes; 73 percent said no.

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