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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Democrats fought hard for seniors’ health care

Guest Commentary

Over the next few days, thousands of senior citizens caught in the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” will receive rebate checks as part of the health care reform bill passed this year by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.

And those checks are just the beginning of the Affordable Health Care for America Act’s efforts to close the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap and improve health care coverage for seniors.

The prescription drug coverage gap is a loophole that was created when President George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress “reorganized” Medicare. While most senior citizens on Medicare receive help to offset skyrocketing prescription drug costs, those paying between $2,700 and $6,154 a year do not. They were abandoned to foot the entire bill.

There was no stronger advocate for closing the “doughnut hole” than our very own congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter.

As a result, starting last week, senior citizens are receiving rebate checks to defray medication costs for 2010, and in 2011 Medicare will cover 50 percent of the prescription drug costs. By 2020, the “doughnut hole” will be closed completely.

Shea-Porter’s work for seniors goes far beyond what can be listed in a single op-ed.

But this may be the most visible achievement she has made for them during her time in Congress.

In 2009 alone, more than 17,000 senior citizens in New Hampshire were hit by the “doughnut hole,” and many were forced to make difficult choices just to make ends meet.

Choices no one should have to make, and certainly not the oldest members of our community who have worked hard and paid into the system all their life.

Democrats have made certain that will never happen again.

And the new law goes further. It also eliminates co-pays, deductibles and other costs for preventative care. This is a proactive initiative to keep seniors from getting sick in the first place.

Not only is that good public policy, but it’s also less expensive. Regular checkups can prevent the need for far more costly catastrophic and emergency medical procedures.

Although the creation of the “doughnut hole” is astonishing in and of itself, the Republicans’ efforts to stop Democrats from closing it this year are even more amazing.

They attacked the Medicare reforms contained in the legislation and used every dirty Senate trick in the book in their efforts to prevent the legislation from becoming law.

While creating the “doughnut hole” could be an oversight, fighting its closure is nothing but a failure to care for the older citizens in our communities.

Republicans have made it clear where their priorities lie. It wasn’t with Americans on Main Street as they drove the economy into a ditch. It wasn’t with middle-class Americans when they voted against the largest middle-class tax cut in the history of our country. And it’s clearly not with senior citizens, who they abandoned when they had the chance to lower costs.

In the coming months, many additional aspects of the health care reform legislation will take effect.

When they do, it will be important for voters to know why the Republicans refused to help Democrats pass this historic reform and if they still favor repeal when it means abandoning thousands of New Hampshire senior citizens struggling to pay for life-saving medication.

Ray Buckley is the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.