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Wed Dec 21, 2011, 07:07 PM

They Just Pulled the Plug on Medicare and Tricare [View all]

I don't know whether to cry or scream.

The MSM is treating it as an afterthought. "House votes "no" on tax cut and unemployment extension. (Oh, and by the way, the nation's health care safety net for the elderly, disabled and military retirees has just crumbled....)" The House, which tried, unsuccessfully to abolish Medicare by voting for the Paul Ryan Bill this spring, has just pulled the plug on the nation's biggest, most beloved public insurance program by failing to cast a vote for another bill. The Republicans won't even talk about what they are doing to Medicare. All they will say is that the Senate did not provide enough tax cuts---

And that is why the New Year is going to be a very unhappy one for the nation's seniors, disabled and military retirees.

January 2, 2012, your mom has been scheduled to get her cataract surgery for months. Her eyesight is poor, which limits her mobility. She has fallen twice, because she can not see. The last time, she stumbled over her sleeping cat and fell down the porch. The doctors said it was a miracle she did not break anything. She is in good health, except for her bad eyes and her weak bones. She wants to stay independent as long as possible. Thatís why she decided to get her cataracts fixed. They are going to do the right one first---

Correction, they were going to do the right one first. That was before the House voted not to stop the scheduled 27% reduction in Medicare provider fees on January 1, 2012. Now, your momís eye doctor is rescheduling all the elective surgeries he performs for Medicare patients, in hopes that the provider fees will go back up sometime next year.

Tell Mom not to worry. If she stumbles over the cat again and breaks a hip this time, the orthopedic surgeon will pin it back together. Doctors will continue to perform urgent and emergency surgery for Medicare patients, the same way they do them for folks who have no insurance at all.

January 2, 2012, you and your spouse get your healthcare through TRICARE, the federally funded insurance for military retirees. Good thing, too, because your employer outsourced your job to India, and now you work for minimum wage and no benefits. You were lucky to find a provider in your area. Lots of doctors have opted out, because of low reimbursements. You are due for a check up in January. So is your spouse---

Unfortunately, you get a letter in the mail. Your doctor is no longer going to accept TRICARE. The 27% payment cut is too steep. She is very sorry. She will continue to treat you for emergencies for 90 days, while you try to find some one else who will accept you as a new TRICARE patient. You call to see if she will change her mind if Congress restores TRICARE funding. Her office manager tells you ďSorry. TRICARE payments are too uncertain. Have you considered getting on private insurance.?Ē

Of course, you have considered getting on private insurance! But you are too old. You have high blood pressure and diabetes. No one in your old field will hire you, and no private insurer will write you an individual policy. Good thing you have a car. You may be driving a long, long way to see your new doctor.

January 2, 2012, you and your family have been seeing the same family doctor for decades. He delivered both of your babies, back in the days when he still did OB. He saw your kids through chicken pox and croup. He was there when your husband had his stroke. He took care of your blood sugar in the hospital after they did your breast cancer surgery. He was there for you during the bad times as well as the good.

Last time you talked to him, he said he had no intention of retiring. However, today you are informed that he has changed his mind. He will be retiring as of April 1. No, it is not an April Foolís joke. His accountant says that he will be losing money if he keeps his practice open, now that Medicare has cut its payments to physicians by 27%. No, even if Congress fixes things in February or March, he will not change his mind. Medicine is too uncertain now. Itís better if he retires.

January 2, 2012, you receive your Medicare card in the mail. Finally! Now, to find a doctor who accepts your insurance. Knowing how hard that can be, you did your homework. Your county medical society provided you with a list of doctors in your area who are taking new Medicare patients. You get out your phone and start calling. And you discover that the list from December, 2011 is no longer up to date. Every single office you call tells you the same thing. ďThe doctor isnít taking new Medicare patients. Sorry.Ē A few of them arenít taking Medicare period. They offer to see you if you will sign a ďprivate contractĒ in which you agree to pay the doctor out of your own pocket and not to rely upon Medicare to pay your bills. What the hell? For the past two years, you have been paying for your own health care out of your own pocket. Thatís why you havenít had a mammogram or a diabetes test or even a visit to check your blood pressure. How is Medicare any different from no insurance?

Is John Boehner having a merry Christmas? I know that the nationís seniors, military retirees and disabled are having a very, very unhappy New Year.

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