AARP gets Georgia input on health reform

AARP Georgia held a "tele-town hall" Thursday with thousands of its members on health care reform but the most questions had to do with Medicare and prescription drug prices.

About 14,000 members joined in the conference call with the state chapter of AARP and one of its Washington representatives, Nicole Duritz, deputy director of AARP's federal health reform campaign.

In an informal poll of those on the call, 41 percent said they had fallen into the "doughnut hole" with their Medicare prescription drug plans. That's the gap where patients have to foot all of their drug costs after their plan pays out a certain amount, until the expenditures reach a much higher level and coverage kicks in again. In effect, they are paying for their drugs themselves while continuing to pay the premium for their prescription drug plan, Ms. Duritz said.

"We know that when people fall into the doughnut hole, they often do things that are not in their best health interests: they skip medication doses, they cut pills in half or unfortunately many just have to make the choice that they can't even take the medication or get their prescriptions filled," she said. "That's why we march up to (Capitol) Hill every single day and say you must close that doughnut hole."

The House of Representatives passed a reform bill that did just that, and AARP is closely monitoring a health reform bill currently on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Ms. Duritz said.

A woman calling from Jasper wanted to know if anything could be done to rein in pharmaceutical companies and drug prices.

"They can just keep going up with their prices," she said.

AARP is interested in an amendment being offered to the Senate bill that would allow the importation of prescription drugs purchased in other countries, where they are often cheaper, Ms. Duritz said.

"We want to make sure it's safe but we think it's a good deal. And our members want to do it," she said. The group also supports giving the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to negotiate drug prices.

A man from Moultrie expressed concern about potential cuts to Medicare that would lower rates paid to physicians, "which means that my doctor may tell me to take a walk," he said.

Physicians had faced a 21-percent rate cut but the House has passed a bill to fix that, Ms. Duritz said.

A woman from Perry said she had heard the bill could hand over a patient's end-of-life decisions to an insurance company or Medicare. But that is simply untrue, Ms. Duritz said.

"This was just a misleading and cruel scare tactic that was used by some special interest groups that were trying to block progress on health reform," she said. The original version of the House bill had a provision that would have reimbursed physicians for having a discussion with patients about what they would like to do at the end of life, Ms. Duritz said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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