Medicare bill passes… with Kennedy’s vote!

The Medicare bill passed the Senate a few hours ago! This is a good thing: it prevents a rate cut to doctors with Medicare patients–and do it by using savings creating by leveling the playing field between the basic Medicare program and private Medicare health plans. It would also provide new consumer protections and improvements in the Medicare program. It got overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, but there was some drama in the Senate before the July 4th holiday. The bill got 59 votes–one shy of being able to break a potential filibuster and advance. The bill had unanimous Democratic support, and some Republican support–although not of Sen. John McCain, who was not present. The only Democratic […] Read More

Improving Medicare…

According to our collegues at Families USA, we have some good progress on improving Medicare in the U.S. Congress: On Tuesday, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, H.R. 6331, by a vote of 355-59. They report that the U.S. Senate expects to vote on the House-passed bill as early as Thursday, June 26. An earlier version of this bill was blocked by a Republican filibuster after the President threatened to veto the bill. The bill also makes needed changes to private Medicare Advantage plans and re-directs funding to Medicare’s doctors and health care providers. This bill makes several important improvements that will help seniors and people with disabilities get the health care they […] Read More

Did he really need to announce that?

Also during yesterday’s Medi-Cal budget subcommittee Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Escondido, made an unseemly and untimely remark. It was during discussion about the governor’s proposal to stop paying the $100/month Medicare Part B (drs offfice visits) premium for seniors who earn at least $13,416 a year. Here’s how the math works out: It means that seniors who receive $1,118 a month would now have to dedicate $100 of their paltry monthly earnings to be able to see a doctor. Asked whether any lawmakers had questions about the cut, Wyland piped up: “Just to say, Madam Chair, we do support the governor’s proposals.” I have no idea what inspired Wyland to be so enthusiastic about this cut — particularly after a string […] Read More

Hail to our Chief!

In all the activity of this week, the highlight was a lovely dinner hosted by state Senator Sheila Kuehl, in honor of Betty Perry. Betty is a legend around Sacramento and the Capitol, for her long leadership at the Older Women’s League of California, where she serves in a volunteer capacity as their public policy director. It was incredibly sweet of Senator Kuehl to honor her, because these tributes are normally done at retirement partiess, yet Betty “officially” retired a couple of decades ago. He was the guidance counselor at McClatchy High School here in Sacramento, and so knows many of the political class from their childhoods, from Supreme Justice Anthony Kennedy to former state Senator Deborah Ortiz. She recently […] Read More

Fighting to the end, may she rest in peace.

Sad news: Theresa Mary Johnson, president of the Older’s Women League of California, passed away this weekend. A mother of nine (!) children, she was a spirited and forceful advocate for social justice and universal health care. Her death was a shock to many of us, as she was active as ever, just last week presiding over OWL’s annual Mother Day’s event. She recently testified before the California legislature’s health committees in favor of SB840(Kuehl), and other bills. This and last January, we went as a group to Washington, DC, and visited several Capitol Hill offices on Medicare Part D issues, where she made strong points to key Congressional staffers. Betty Perry, OWL’s public policy director and chair of the […] Read More

A senior moment…

I’ve been on the road speaking a lot. Yesterday, I presented on the health reform debate to a conference on Healthy Aging. My message to them, not shockingly: seniors need to be engaged in this health reform and coverage expansion discussion. In part, I wanted to blow up the myth that seniors and their concerns aren’t relevant because they largely have coverage through Medicare and Medi-Cal. 1) In fact, it is because they do have such coverage that they need to pay attention. Every time there is a recession or a deficit, we face calls to cut these programs. As health and consumer advocates, we argue that the increases in these programs are actually less than the overall private market, […] Read More

For our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers

There’s a common perception out there that seniors are “taken care of” when it comes to health care. But many adults between the ages of 55 and 64 are increasingly filing for bankruptcy as a result — partially — of higher health care costs, according to this LA Times article. when you think about it, though, it’s no surprise. Medicare benefits don’t begin until 65. By the time you’re 55, you’ve got a good history of pre-existing conditions, making it more expensive to cover you. And employers are looking for younger, cheaper workers — because you cost too much in more ways than one. More reason for us to get on the ball and do something this year. Health Access […] Read More

This is our political system on drugs…

Here in Sacramento, SB840(Kuehl) passed out of Senate Health Committee this evening, along a party line vote with six “aye” votes. (State Senator Negrete-McLeod was not present during the vote.) But the issue of “single-payer” health coverage was invoked in Washington, DC, as well. In a blow to seniors, the federal budget, and common sense, several U.S. Senators blocked a attempt to pass a bill to allow the federal government to use its purchasing power under Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs. While most Democrats (including California’s Boxer and Feinstein) and even six Republicans voted for the measure, totalling 55 votes, it was not enough to get the supermajority 60 votes needed to actually get it passed. I was curious […] Read More

After today, the deluge

After a burst of health-related activity in January and February, the 2007 session has been relatively quiet — until now. This week, advocates saw debate on several bills, including two of note: AB1635 (Strickland) would have allowed Medi-Cal recipients to voluntarily enroll in high-deductible plans, and use HSA-like “Health Opportunity Accounts.” Health Access California opposed the measure as did Western Center on Law and Poverty. The bill died on Tuesday. SB623 (Wiggins) would relieve seniors who are eligible for both Medi-Cal and Medicare to have co-pays for their prescription drugs paid for by Medi-Cal. Last year, when Medicare Part D went into effect, one million of the state’s lowest income seniors (earning about $800 a month) were made worse off […] Read More