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Healthcare Reform Poorly Understood

After Medicare open enrollment kicked off on November 15, senior citizens in the U.S. have seen changes to their healthcare plans. President Obama's healthcare law expanded the prescription drug benefits for seniors, along with other benefits, but many of our elderly don't understand the law.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll surveyed Americans 65 and older, a group that lead strong opposition to the healthcare bill. The poll found that 57 percent of seniors are confused by the law, which is higher than for any other demographic; most senior citizens do not know that the law means for them.

Even with broad opposition to the law, totalling at about a quarter of the population, the provisions it provides for the elderly remain popular. One such provision that will benefit Medicare beneficiaries will close the prescription drug coverage "doughnut hole," the out of pocket expenses that seniors incur once their medical costs hit $2,830. This year, seniors who fell in the gap got a $250 rebate check. In 2011, pharmaceutical companies will start providing a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs so eventually Medicare Part D drug coverage program enrollees will only be responsible for 25 percent of their prescription drug costs by 2020.

Less favorable provisions in the law include an increase in Medicare payroll taxes on earnings for Americans with higher incomes, and the elimination of co-payments for preventative screenings like mammograms and cancer screenings. The law also makes bonus payments to professionals who have high-quality ratings. In 2011, higher premiums will be charged to individuals who make $85,000 or more a year, or couples with an income of $170,000 or more a year. The federal premium subsidy will be cut to 74.5 percent, depending upon individuals' incomes. The healthcare law will also effectively reduce Medicare Advantage plans that offer enrollees the option to receive their benefits from private healthcare providers. Changes will be most obvious for people living in rural areas, where there are limited options for healthcare coverage and services.

The healthcare law consolidates healthcare plans, but it will still allow seniors flexible choices about which plan and options to choose. Each state will have a minimum of 28 available plans at an average cost of $40 per month, according to Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a healthcare policy group.

This landmark healthcare overhaul was bound to ruffle these politicians feathers despite the content of said law. The disputes over the healthcare have prompted politicians to make claims that they will repeal the law either partially or wholly. Medicare is also a contentious U.S. program. Some of the greatest expenses for the federal government are programs for seniors. Social security , Medicare and Medicaid, and other mandatory programs account for 40 percent of the federal budged, according to Kaiser. Kaiser thinks this number will grow from 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 16 percent of GDP in 25 years. Misinformed seniors have loudly protested the idea that the healthcare law would cut billions from Medicare, a charge that is completely unfounded.

"These choices are also hard on legitimate policy grounds, especially when it comes to Medicare. And the most important reason they are hard is that so many seniors and disabled people on Medicare have low incomes and already pay a significant share of those incomes for their health care today," said Drew Altman, Kaiser's president. "It will be difficult if not impossible to ask the majority of beneficiaries to pay more or make do with less." Altman predicted, "Democrats will resist cuts in these programs and Republicans will resist any new taxes."

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