WASHINGTON – As a massive overhaul of the nation's health care system gets under way, Medicare beneficiaries can stop worrying about one thing, according to the AARP:
Uncle Sam won't be reducing any of their guaranteed Medicare benefits.
"Many people have been unfairly frightened by thinking their benefits are going to be cut when they're not," said Cheryl Matheis, AARP's senior vice president for health strategy, during a national teleconference Thursday afternoon to discuss impacts of the health care reform bill signed into law this week.
Matheis said projected Medicare savings will come from reductions in future payments to which medical providers have largely agreed. Another large chunk of savings will come from reductions in overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans, said David Certner, AARP legislative policy director.
How about that "doughnut hole?"
A phased-in closing of the notorious coverage gap in Medicare Part D prescription drug plans will begin this year with a $250 rebate for anyone whose drug purchases fall into the gap. Next year, beneficiaries falling into the gap will get a 50 percent discount on name-brand drugs, Certner said.
Under the phase-in plan, the gap will close entirely by 2020.
On the down side for wealthier Medicare Part D enrollees, defined as those with incomes at $85,000 or more for individuals and $170,000 or more for a couple: They'll pay more for Part D coverage, according to AARP.
Some additional features of the reform legislation for those 50 and older, the organization says:
– Tax credits will be available within a year for small employers offering insurance coverage.
– Help is in store for employers with programs that extend health coverage to early retirees to help keep the coverage affordable.
– Within a year, there will be provisions to prevent insurers from arbitrarily canceling or limiting coverage.
– Within a year, young adults can remain covered under their parents' insurance until they're 26.
– Also within a year, there will be temporary coverage offered through 2014 for people unable to get insurance due to their health.
– Insurers will be required to spend more of their premium income on providing benefits.
– Next year, federal and state governments will have a uniform system to review premium rate increases, and consumers will stand to receive rebates when they've been charged unreasonable premium increases.
– Insurance companies won't be able to deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition starting in 2014.
AARP spokesman Jim Dau acknowledged the organization didn't get everything it wanted from health care reform legislation, and still has more work to do, for example, in the area of making drug prices more affordable for everyone.
AARP plans to continue pushing for increased availability of generic drugs on the market and safe importation of drugs from outside the U.S., he said.