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Health care reform bill 101: What does it mean for seniors?

Some seniors may lose Medicare benefits they now enjoy. Many others will gain from an enhancement of Medicare’s prescription-drug program.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, looks over her notes during a news conference on healthcare on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday. With the new bill, some seniors can expect changes in their Medicare benefits.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Many senior citizens worry about the effect that the health care reform bill may have on them. After all, they generally use the health care system more than do younger people. And those living on fixed incomes may have little leeway in their budgets to help if their health costs rise.

Would the healthcare reform legislation that President Obama plans to sign into law on Tuesday affect seniors in any direct way?

The short answer is “yes.”

Healthcare 101: What the bill means to you

The longer answer is that some seniors may lose Medicare benefits they now enjoy. Many others will gain from an enhancement of Medicare’s prescription-drug program.

Here are some specifics on these changes:

Medicare cuts

Under the healthcare reform bill, government payments to Medicare Advantage – plans that are run by private insurers such as Humana and are an alternative to traditional Medicare – will be cut by $132 billion over 10 years. (Those plans currently get somewhat more per person from the government than traditional Medicare does.)

Medicare Advantage plans often offer extra benefits that seniors in traditional Medicare don’t get. It is possible that these extras will be dropped as Medicare Advantage plans feel a budget squeeze.

In most areas of the United States, this reduction will be phased in over three years, beginning in 2011, although in some places it will take longer.

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