Health care reform will help Medicare

Posted: Sunday, September 06, 2009

This is in response to Tracy Spartz Campbell's letter titled "Health care failed dad."

She has aptly described a serious issue that families face, paying for nursing home care. Medicare is a federal insurance program for aged and/or disabled citizens that does cover some nursing home care, but only for the most complex-level patients. It wasn't originally designed or funded as long-term care insurance and does not cover the intermediate level of care that most patients need. Health care reform will strengthen Medicare.

The Medicaid program she wrote about is welfare, not an insurance program, created to provide health care coverage for indigent citizens who fit into specific categories (i.e., aged, disabled, pregnant, children and some single parents). As it turns out, the majority of people in nursing homes eventually end up covered by Medicaid (which is both federal and state funded) because long term care is so obscenely expensive. Health care reform will maintain a Medicaid program.

Long-term care insurance is what really failed Campbell's father. As she discovered, the waiting period for most of these policies is at least three months. In addition, most long-term care insurance policies do not cover the full cost of nursing home care. Health care reform mandates several changes to make insurance both less expensive and more accountable to the public.

Campbell's family has my deepest sympathy; they have faced the devastating loss of a loved one coupled with real financial distress. But isn't this situation exactly what President Obama talked about when he spoke about his dying mother fighting with insurance companies to cover her medical bills? The immorality of this situation is one of the primary motivating forces behind health care reform.

More than 50 percent of bankruptcies in this country are due to medical costs, and more than half of those are people who had insurance. Ours is the only developed country where citizens have to worry about going bankrupt due to medical bills.

As for Campbell's suggestion that Sen. Lisa Murkowski understands the need for reform and should be given a platform to speak to the nation, I have yet to see a single health care reform proposal from Sen. Murkowski. Instead she wrote in her June 29 My Turn article that we should slow down. We have waited since the 1960's for health care reform. Now we pay more for health care and get less. It is time to pass reform now.

I hope that Murkowski will follow through with her pledge to work with both her Democrat and Republican colleagues to ensure passage of meaningful health care reform legislation.

Patricia O'Brien

Department of Health and Social Services (retired)


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