Pleasanton Weekly

News - July 8, 2011

Town hall addresses health care reform in U.S.

Congressman discusses bill to change Medicare

by Glenn Wohltmann

Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) is warning that health care costs for the elderly could double if a bill proposed by a Wisconsin Republican goes through.

Speaking in a telephone town hall with constituents on Tuesday, McNerney said Paul Ryan's plan to offer vouchers to seniors to replace Medicare would continue the current problems with rising health care costs. He said those rises have been averaging 15-20% a year.

McNerney is an active supporter of the health care reform package that passed last year. People called in from across his district, including a number from Pleasanton, and were introduced by first names only.

Kay of Pleasanton worried that the Medicare reform package is too expensive to the federal government and asked what changes could be made to make it more affordable.

"Health care costs are increasing," McNerney acknowledged. "We will reach a point where it starts causing problems with our federal budget."

Ryan's bill is part of his overall plan to reduce federal spending on entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare. Under his bill, people who enroll in Medicare after 2020 would receive a fixed contribution from the federal government rather than a benefit package, like those who are currently receiving Medicare. Those later enrollees would apply their entitlement against the cost of health insurance.

Health care reform -- often called Obamacare -- has been under increasing scrutiny after last year's elections, which led to a Republican majority in Congress.

However, McNerney said that by reducing "waste, fraud and abuse," the costs would become more manageable.

"There's a lot of things in our current reform package that will reduce the cost of Medicare over the next 10 years or so," McNerney said.

Pleasanton resident Timothy worried about coverage under the voucher system proposed by Ryan.

"Is there something that says if we go to that kind of system that the insurers do have to insure us and make it affordable?" he asked.

McNerney said that's one of the problems with Ryan's plan.

"History has shown that when people have price support (as in the voucher plan) in the system, the insurance companies just raise their rates," he said. "What I want to do is make sure that we continue with our current Medicare plan. The overhead is low. It's very efficient."

Connie of Pleasanton was concerned about prescription prices; she noted that the current health care reform package blocked the federal government from negotiating prices with drug companies, although that's already being done by the military.

McNerney pointed out that while that was originally not allowed, the reform package will allow the government to negotiate in the future, which would reduce prescription prices "significantly."

The number of doctors available for Medicare patients was worrisome for both Virginia of Dublin and Pleasanton resident Trinity.

"Will the insurance companies have doctors working for them? It's hard today to find a doctor who's taking Medicare right now," Virginia said.

Trinity pointed out that there's already a backlog for doctors who can see Medicare patients or people with disabilities, who are also covered under the plan.

McNerney said the health care reform package has taken that into consideration by giving new doctors financial incentives to become generalists and not specialists.

"We need to make sure there's enough primary care physicians out there to met the needs of the American people," he said. "You don't want folks to have to wait months to see a physician."

McNerney added that wellness programs that keep people healthy and out of doctors offices and hospitals are also part of the plan.

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