Sunday, April 4, 2004

No confidence in Medicare reform



CONCERNED SENIOR
Betty Stevens
Betty Stevens joined a Medicare HMO in the '90s, and saved money, at first. "Little by little you got less and less coverage."
(Meggan Booker photo)

BETTY STEVENS
76, Norwood

Type of insurance coverage: Medicare HMO

Health coverage premium: $50 a month to cover Betty and husband, Walter, 78.

Personal health needs: Spending for 12 prescriptions averages $400 a month, plus more than $100 a month in doctor visits.

As the years go by, Betty Stevens has become less and less satisfied with her health coverage. She was among the thousands of seniors who flocked to Medicare HMOs when they were launched in the mid-1990s, offering drug coverage and vision, dental and other benefits at low costs.

"When I started it was almost too good to be true. I saved more than $1,000 the first year," she says. "As I got older and needed more medical care they changed their policies. Little by little you got less and less coverage."

This year, after years of political gridlock, Congress passed a sweeping Medicare reform bill. It includes drug discount cards and free physical exams starting at age 65. A full drug coverage plan is scheduled to take effect in 2006.

Supporters say the plan offers real help on drug costs for low- and modest-income seniors. Critics say the plan protects drug makers by restricting imports from Canada and blocking Medicare from negotiating discounts.

Stevens says the new Medicare drug benefit "stinks."

"It's not going to help anybody," she says. Stevens doubts the potential drug savings will make any meaningful difference for people on fixed incomes.

"There's a lot of seniors trying to survive on just their Social Security checks. It's getting to be almost impossible," she says. "Yet these were working people all their lives, and they're not wanting to ask for charity."

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No confidence in Medicare reform
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