Meetings by AARP help residents understand health care reform


POSTED: Saturday, September 19, 2009

Islanders asked a lot of questions about proposed national health care reforms at AARP Hawaii meetings this week—which one member called “;a good civilized debate.”;

“;I think we can get real reform this time, as long as we don't let all the crazy talk take us off track,”; Marlene Kennedy, 49, said at a town hall meeting yesterday at the Capitol with her husband, Alexandru Preiss.

“;The rising cost of health insurance scares me,”; said Kennedy, explaining she and her husband are self-employed graphic artists. “;I've been very diligent about saving for retirement and now, not even thinking about a catastrophic illness, now I have to worry if my nest egg is going to be eaten by insurance premiums.”;

Greg Wang, AARP's senior legislative representative for congressional relations, described proposed health care reforms and answered often emotional questions reflecting people's concerns and fears at Big Island, Oahu and Maui meetings.

Aside from applause several times for comments from some of the roughly 60 people at yesterday's session, the aloha spirit prevailed.





AARP hasn't endorsed any of the four House and Senate health care reform bills but is advocating certain provisions to give families access to affordable care:
        » Protecting Medicare for seniors and future gen-erations.
        » Ending denial of insurance because of health or age.
        » Preserving choices so seniors can choose the doctors they want and “;no one—not insurance companies or the government—can tell them what doctors to see or treatments to seek.”;
        » Ensuring that seniors continue to get benefits they've earned.
        » Providing consumer protections.
        » Eliminating waste so tax dollars are spent on health care and not insurance company subsidies.
        Source: Greg Wang, AARP's senior legislative representative for congressional relations


Many informational meetings on the mainland turned into yelling matches, and “;the end of a pinkie was bitten off”; at a gathering in Southern California, Wang noted.

“;People's emotions are high and, yes, you should care,”; because of the impact of health care issues on families, he said.

Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii state director, said the organization was sponsoring the meetings to make sure the issues are heard and to clarify information so people could make sound decisions.

Jackie Boland, AARP Hawaii associate director, said 26,000 residents ages 50 to 64 were uninsured in 2007 and that lost jobs and rising insurance costs may have pushed the figure higher.

The United States in 2007 spent $2.2 trillion on health care—$7,421 per capita, she said. Medicare has 45 million members and people still are spending 30 percent of their income on out-of-pocket costs, she said.

Medicare will reduce payments to doctors by 21 percent in January without legislative reforms, which will result in doctors reducing existing patients and turning away new ones, she said.

No doctors in Hilo are taking new Medicare patients now, Boland added.

Wang stressed, “;Health care is an American issue, not a party issue.”;

He said AARP represents 39 million Americans age 50 and older and “;we're trying to make a more secure future for everybody.”;