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Mel Walsh: Uncle Sam’s Medicare plans

Mel Walsh

Did you hear the story about the geezer who was asked his opinion about government fund¹ing for health care? He said: “Medicare is working fine for me, so I don’t want the government getting involved and messing it up.”

Well, you and I know Medicare is THE government health care funding program for older folks. It is involved in almost every aspect of seniors’ health care. When older people need a new hip, a cataract operation or want to see a doc about a hitch in their getalong, their medical adventures are heavily financed by Uncle Sam.

Sam got into the medical business back in 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law as part of his Great Society program. Ex-prez Truman was the first one to sign up. That was fair as it was Truman who first proposed that the federal government become involved in health care. But Truman had to wait 20 years for it to happen and then, the program was not the universal care he wanted, but benefits just for us older folks.

So who knows how long it will be before all our citizens have such good access to health care? (Myself, I feel a bit guilty that my age group is the only one singled out as worthy of help in the health arena, though Medicaid did eventually come on board for those without much money.)

New Medicare happenings

If you could see your TV set through the smoke in the last few weeks, you learned that Congress passed a new Medicare bill over President Bush’s veto. Without this new bill, doctors’ fees would have been cut over 10%. But Congress was nagged – I mean lobbied – by the likes of us. Plus it is an election year and we oldsters are famous as voting types, so the cut got cancelled.

And, though not much talked about, this bill had other provisions that will affect Medicare recipients. These are the things the new bill will do for you:

Reduce out-of-pocket expenses for mental health visits. Mental health clients will eventually have the same co-pay as other visits – 20%, not the present 50%. (If you are bi-polar or have other common brain disorders, this change will save you a lot of money.)

Give a slight boost to preventive care. You will now have 12 months to get a physical after entering the Medicare program. Present limit is 6 months. So there will be more time to make that appointment to get checked out.

Boost payments to doctors who use electronic prescriptions, rather than the written ones that are easily misunderstood. So this new development should be a step towards your greater safety. Only about 40,000 doctors use e-scripts now. And, if they don’t get with the 21st century, they will begin to get their fees docked by the government.

Last, Medicare will pay for anti-anxiety drugs like Valium and Xanax, but not until 2013, so if you worry before then, you’re on your own.

More on the Washington horizon

Candidate McCain has been bringing up an idea that President Bush could not get through and that is the idea of privatizing Social Security – having people invest privately for their own retirement. I would bet McCain will have an especially rough time selling this idea now when the financial markets are rocky, banks are failing, and the economic forecasts not cheery.

Expect a lot of debate on this issue between the parties. Me, I’d bet the idea of privatization will fail again, but I won’t bet very much.

I need the dough for my retirement and really, given the present return on bank CD’s, I am not sure I can wait five years for the government Valium.

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