Elected Officials Target ACA Myths at Local Senior Forum
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Montebello resident Patricia Lazalde is seventy-five-years-old and both her blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are high. She says having good health insurance and health care will be important for the rest of her life. Yet, like many at the Montebello Senior Center Tuesday, she doesn’t know much about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or whether it will impact seniors like her.
That lack of information has fueled many myths about what the new health care law will mean to seniors on Medicare, according to AARP Associate State Director Julie Bates, one of several speakers at a seminar hosted last week by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia at the Pico Rivera Senior Center.
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“Lack of access” is the biggest challenge facing local officials and organizations like AARP that are trying to dispel the myths and get the correct information out to seniors, Bates told EGP.
Both Sanchez and Garcia represent local east and southeast communities, including Montebello and Pico Rivera. The senior focused seminar on the Affordable Health Care Act is part of their effort to get their constituents better informed.
“ACA is one of the most important pieces of health care legislation in the last 60 years,” Sanchez told the 100 or so people at the event. “It’s about making Americans healthier and protecting our seniors.”
AARP’s Bates told EGP that seniors at the seminar wanted answers about ACA and for their concerns to be addressed. AARP is a national organization that advocates for and provides services to people over the age of 50.
Signed into law in 2010 by President Barrack Obama, ACA, also referred to as Obamacare, requires all residents to have health insurance. The goal is to make health care more affordable and accessible by having everyone participate, including the young and healthy. Those who opt to not sign up for health insurance will face fines, which grow larger every year the person remains uninsured.
Under the new law, people cannot be turned down for health coverage based on their prior medical history. Premiums will be based on age, zip code, household size and income instead of health status, gender, pre-existing health conditions or tobacco use.
“Everyone who wants health insurance will be covered,” Garcia explained.
California was one of the first states to establish a health insurance exchange: Covered California is a state sponsored marketplace of private insurance companies where individuals, families and small businesses can shop for affordable coverage. Some people will qualify for subsidies based on their income, and those subsidies will help them cover the cost of the insurance. Enrollment in Covered California plans will begin Oct. 1; coverage start Jan. 1, 2014.
For seniors with Medicare, however, the start of ACA should bring few unwanted changes. Bates told seniors at the seminar that ACA will actually improve their Medicare coverage by decreasing prescription drug and preventative care costs and adding new wellness benefits guaranteed under the new law.
While those at the seminar left feeling better informed, many seniors still have little information.
At the Montebello Senior Center, Luz Nieto, 62, told EGP she didn’t know much about the health reform act but became concerned when she heard from a friend it would cost her thousands of dollars in mandatory premiums; one of the many myths Rep. Sanchez told EGP they have tried to correct during seminars like the one in Pico Rivera.
Many of the seniors we’ve talked to didn’t know that ACA doesn’t cut Medicare payments to doctors or that it’s adoption will help extend Medicare’s solvency, Sanchez said.
“The misinformation that was spread to seniors about how the ACA affected Medicare was really dangerous,” she said.
For those over 65, the act improves Medicare benefits and eliminates the “doughnut hole” that had seniors paying high amounts for prescriptions, Bates told EGP.
“Medicare is not going away,” Bates said. “Medicare was strengthened through the Affordable Care Act and benefits were improved for everyone else.”
The transition for low-income seniors with Medicare or Medi-Cal should be seamless, Bates said. “Seniors will see no change whatsoever in their delivery of service. Medicare-Medi-Cal will be a passive enrollment change, even their insurance cards will remain the same,” she said. Seniors can even continue to see their doctor of choice, she added.
Ellen Lee, a Montebello resident in her 80s, told EGP some seniors don’t understand what’s going on because they simply can’t read or lack access to a computer.
“Everything requires technology nowadays,” Lee said. “Some people are just limited.” Lazalde told EGP she thinks that for many of her fellow seniors the topic is too political or personal for them to talk about.
Bates said that is why Covered California has a telephone hotline that people can call to ask questions or enroll in a health plan, and it’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Mary Nykoluk, 68, said health care costs are not just a concern for seniors, but everyone on affixed income. “We are all on limited income,” Nykoluk said. “I know people who greatly depend on obtaining their services.”
ACA will lower health care costs and most importantly, 30 million more Americans will finally be able to get health care coverage, Sanchez told EGP.
Sanchez said seniors she’s talked to were relieved to learn that over the next ten years the average Medicare recipient will save over $4,000 and those in the “donut hole” will on average save over $16,000 due to ACA.
But with new programs there is often new paperwork and forms to be filled out, and that has Nykoluk worried about more elder abuse and fraud. It’s a sentiment echoed by 65-year-old Eva Herman who said a clinic once took advantage of her and signed off on a bunch of services she never authorized.
“They take advantage of seniors all the time,” agreed Nykoluk.
It is a concern that Sanchez says heath officials are working on.
One of the ongoing arguments against ACA is that it is forcing young people to subsidize health care for the elderly, a claim Sanchez disputes.
“Improved services that seniors will receive would not be offset by other groups but rather by savings in Medicare, by cutting waste, preventing fraud, and making Medicare more efficient,” she said.
Lazalde told EGP she thinks younger people, even if they are not purchasing insurance for themselves, need to know about Medicare and Medi-Cal changes because they often fill out the forms for their elderly parents.
“The struggle is how do you get the young folks informed, because at the end of the day they are the ones that may be helping others,” agrees Assemblywoman Garcia who noted she had to deal with getting her retired parents insured.
Garcia told EGP that she and Congresswoman Sanchez are planning to visit community colleges to reach out to young people so they too can become better informed.
Sanchez says she has been reminding recent graduates and their parents that thanks to ACA, they can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.
While Lazalde is happy with her current health plan, she told EGP she will take a look at the Covered California marketplace because she knows her younger siblings could benefit from shopping around.
Garcia told EGP she knows there are still issues to be worked out and many people to be informed as the health care program rolls out.
“It’s still a work-in-progress,” she said. “This is not something that will be done on October 1st, we are going to be dealing with this for the next couple of years.”
August 29, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.