Forum Alerts Retirees To Medicare Perils

EAST HARTFORD -- After listening to experts discuss the horrors of Congress' proposed changes to Medicare for two hours Saturday, 80-year-old Charles Casinghino had heard enough.

"I don't like what they're going to do with those Medicare cuts," Casinghino said as he left the morning forum at East Hartford Town Hall. "I think it stinks. I hope they don't fool around with it. I don't want to see Medicare privatized."

Casinghino is one of the lucky ones. His current benefit plan pays for all his prescription drugs. But like many of the more than 150 retirees and seniors who squeezed into town hall's council chambers Saturday, he's worried about his future.

Under the House bill, premiums could jump as much as 25 percent. Individuals would need to spend $775 for medication before their Medicare coverage kicks in and then 20 percent of the cost of their drugs after that, said Judy Stein,executive director of the Connecticut-based Center for Medicare Advocacy.

Under the Senate bill, they would need to spend $1,155 before getting coverage and then would pay 50 percent of the cost of their drugs after that, she said.

"It's very scary," said Ursula Kubiak, 73, of East Hartford. "Medicare has been better in the past. But even if it stays where it is now, it will be better than what they're saying."

U.S. Rep. John B. Larson [Rep. John Larson (D-CT)], D-1st District, an outspoken critic of both plans, organized Saturday's forum in an effort to educate his constituents about the changes and to warn them of the dangers that lie ahead.

"In my estimate, both bills are seriously flawed," Larson said to a rapt audience. He said the House bill endangers current prescription drug benefits and threatens to privatize Medicare at the expense of the seniors who need it.

Larson warned that what might look like beneficial changes on the surface may include potentially serious consequences in the long run. Former AARPpresident Gerd Weindling agreed.

"The devil is in the details, ladies and gentleman," Weindling, one of the guest panelists, said. `If this legislation goes through it will be hell to pay. It will just be too much for people to understand."

Skyrocketing prescription drug prices, astronomical fees and co-payments and lapses in coverage were just some of the horror stories and fears shared by those at Saturday's event.

The main theme of the day seemed to be that if the current Medicare program isn't broke, don't fix it.

"The bill being presented in the House is not a Medicare drug bill, but a Medicare destabilization bill," said Stein.

"Medicare is not without its problems," Stein said. "But basically at its soul, Medicare works. ... There is no need to reform Medicare and make it more like my private health insurance plan."

Seventy-six-year-old Bob Lang said he's worried about having to pay more for the eight different medications he must take every day for his heart and hypertension, some of which cost nearly a dollar a pill.

"If they're changing it to what they're talking about, leave it alone," Lang said. "It's ridiculous."