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N.D. AARP: Nationwide health care system needs reform

The still-faltering economy makes reform of the nation's health care system increasingly vital, especially for older Americans, the state director of AARP said Monday in Grand Forks.

The still-faltering economy makes reform of the nation's health care system increasingly vital, especially for older Americans, the state director of AARP said Monday in Grand Forks.

"A lot of older Americans are losing jobs or changing jobs, and then because of cost or pre-existing conditions they can't afford -- or even find -- health coverage," Janis Cheney said.

In the 1930s, the creation of Social Security "made a huge change in the quality of life for older Americans," she said. "Medicare in the 1960s also had a huge impact.

"Now, we really are at such a juncture again. The costs are simply out of control."

Cheney was in Grand Forks to speak with seniors about health care, insurance and the reform proposals coming before Congress. Some people are confused or frightened, she said, by warnings that reform means health care rationing, age limits on certain treatments or procedures, or adoption of a government-run, Canadian-style health care system.

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"That's not in any of the proposals before Congress," Cheney said, "nor is it anything that AARP would support.

"People need to look at where their information is coming from. Our agenda is pretty straightforward, and we're not trying to hide who we are or what we're doing."

AARP has not taken a position on one of the most hotly contested issues, whether reform of the health insurance system should include a government option to ensure that everyone has access to insurance.

Before the 2008 presidential election, AARP joined with other groups, including the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to form Divided We Fail, which "tried to keep the issues of health care in front of the presidential candidates," she said.

SEIU promotes a government option as vital to health care reform, and the union has staffed offices in Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks to build public support for a government option.

"We continue to work with these other groups on the urgency of health care reform, and we share some overall interests in reform," AARP's Cheney said. "We do part company on some of the specifics. For example, we are neither opposing nor promoting a public plan."

AARP's priorities for health care reform include guaranteeing access to affordable coverage for Americans 50 to 64. Even before the current recession, more than 7 million people in that age group were uninsured in 2007, a jump of 36 percent since 2000, the organization says.

AARP also wants Congress to close the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole," a coverage gap causing many seniors to delay or skip filling prescriptions because of costs.

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Other priorities include finding ways to reduce drug costs, reduce hospital readmissions through a Medicare follow-up care benefit, develop a better system for long-term care and improve access to Medicare programs for low-income people.

Cheney said she is "pretty confident" that meaningful reform is within reach.

"Enough people are committed to it, and enough good people are working on it," she said. "The intentions are all in the right direction."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: HEALTHCARE
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