Maloney tells seniors that Dems will preserve Medicare

By Aline Reynolds

If the Republicans’ version of the 2012 federal budget passes Congress, Medicare as we know it would no longer exist, according to Carolyn Maloney. The congressmember stopped by the Whittaker Center on East Broadway last Friday to talk to Lower East Side seniors about the proposed changes.

Maloney is fiercely advocating for saving Medicare, currently guaranteed to Americans 65 and older. The G.O.P. budget, which the House passed in April and the Senate voted down in May, would eliminate this guarantee and create a voucher system requiring seniors in the future to buy their own private health insurance from the private market.

“We will never let that happen,” Maloney assured the seniors at lunch. “Medicare is a huge part of America’s bedrock agreement with its citizens: If you work hard and play by the rules, our nation will help make sure you are taken care of in your retirement.”

The Republican plan would raise many seniors’ out-of-pocket healthcare expenses by more than twice the current amount by 2022, equal to a $6,500 annual hike per senior in New York. By 2030, seniors would be paying 68 percent of their own healthcare costs, while receiving only about one-third of the costs in federal subsidies.

The reform would end preventative healthcare benefits. In Maloney’s East Side and Queens district, 88,000 seniors would be impacted by this change, many of them residing in naturally occuring retiring communities, or NORC’s, such as on Grand St. and East Broadway on the Lower East Side.

“The G.O.P. plan also gives enormous flexibility to the private insurance companies,” Maloney said, noting there would be less choice of doctors compared to Medicare now.

Also, the plan would increase the age when seniors become eligible for the new subsidies program from 65 to 67 starting in 2022, and would reopen the prescription drug “donut hole,” amounting to billions of dollars in total increased expenses. Some 11,000 seniors in Maloney’s district would be affected by this change.

“We need to balance the budget,” the congressmember said, “to deal with the debt caused by two wars that the Bush administration did not pay for — but not on the backs of our seniors, which is what the Republican plan would do.”

Seniors at the Whittaker Center voiced their concerns about the proposals.

Seward Park Co-op resident Arthur Friedland said he’s worried about his nephew, whose physical disabilities have left him unemployed for nearly three years.

“It’s very important that Medicare continue, because a fellow like this is going to wind up in the gutter,” said Friedland. “There’s nobody out there to really help them.”

The congresswoman said she and her fellow Democrats are doing everything they can to preserve Medicare by negotiating spending cuts in other budget categories.