Seniors express concerns at town hall session on drug coverage

Sunday, July 20, 2003 - Jack Duane, 78, of Denver is worried. He suspects his medical insurance provider is trying to dump him from his policy.

Despite combined medical coverage under his retirement plan and Medicare, Duane and his wife paid more than $19,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses last year. About 20 percent of that was for prescription drugs.

"Something is going on because they are really stalling our 2003 insurance package," said Duane, who plans to hire a lawyer to help him deal with the issue.

Duane's problem was among the many health insurance concerns voiced by seniors on Saturday at a town hall discussion of a prescription drug bill that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in June.

The meeting, sponsored by Colorado Democratic U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette [Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)] and Mark Udall [Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO)] in Denver, was one of many discussions held by House Democrats across the country who are encouraging constituents to voice concerns about the bill before it is compromised with a similar version passed by the Senate.

Main concerns expressed by DeGette and Udall included the underfunding of the bill and that seniors would still have to pay about $3,500 in out-of-pocket expenses before catastrophic prescription drug coverage kicked in.

The representatives also criticized the bill's provision that, beginning in 2010, Medicare would compete directly with private insurers for overall health coverage. They argued that private plans would outbid Medicare for healthy beneficiaries, causing Medicare premiums to rise.

"Medicare and Social Security are two of the most successful programs in the world that allow seniors to live with dignity," Udall said. "Diane and I will not be a party to the weakening of Medicare."

In a telephone interview, U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., who voted for the bill, said he held his own set of meetings with seniors before the vote.

"One thing that came loud and clear from seniors I talked to is that they want a choice," he said, emphasizing that seniors who like the Medicare system will have the choice to keep it after 2010.

About 70 seniors attended Saturday's forum. Among their concerns was whether Americans are subsidizing the low prescription drug costs in Europe and Canada, and the importance of a health system that addresses the specific needs of individual seniors.

Others expressed their frustration about prescription drug pricing, which often encourages seniors to buy more than they need.