Bob Aronson

Election 2012 — Senior Citizen Transplants & Healthcare Coverage to Diminish

In Seniors/transplants/healthcare on September 10, 2012 at 5:37 AM

This is a presidential election year and because of the debate over Medicare, Obamacare and the federal deficit Senior Citizens had better sit up and take notice.  Regardless of who wins big changes are in store that will affect the lives of current and future senior citizens.  While this blog usually confines itself to organ donation/transplantation issues the all-encompassing nature of the healthcare debate caused us to broaden our perspective. From our vantage point this is how the Medicare/Obamacare/deficit debate shakes out.

When it comes to health care in America we have the known (Medicare as it currently stands and the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare) and we have the unknown (Romney/Ryan – roughly outlined plan)

Here’s what we know we have now and what we can expect.

  • If you are 65 years old and need an organ transplant Medicare will pay 80% of the cost (your supplemental will pick up the rest) and will pay the full cost of all of your ant- rejection drugs as long as you live.
  • If you are officially disabled, regardless of age, Medicare will offer the same transplant and anti-rejection coverage.
  • If you are under 65 but suffer from Kidney Disease Medicare will cover 80% of the cost of a transplant and will fully cover anti-rejection drugs for 36 months.  Medicare will also cover the cost of dialysis until you get a transplant
  • If you qualify Medicaid, which is mostly federally funded but state run, will cover transplants and the cost of medication but with recent cuts many people will not qualify for transplants.
  • Under “Obamacare” If you are covered by Medicare Part D (that’s prescription coverage) your costs will keep going down until they disappear almost completely in 8 years (2020) that’s when the donut hole closes.
  • 14.3 million Senior citizens in America have already received important preventive benefits under The Affordable Care Act including an annual checkup, without paying any deductibles or co-pays. Also millions of Americans are getting cancer screenings, mammograms, and other preventive services at no charge, but the status quo cannot last.  Even if Medicare/Obamacare survives it will have to change, there will be cuts because the cost of providing care is just too high.  Changes could include a later starting date for Medicare to age 66 or 67; more limited coverage; lowering coverage from 80 to 70%; higher premiums; fewer drugs covered under Part D to name just a few.
  • Still unknown is what change will be made in organ allocation policy.  Under consideration is a measure that would allocate organs by potential long term survivability. That simply means that age will become more of a factor.  Under this practice younger organs would go to younger people because both the organs and the recipient have longer expected life spans.  For example, if an organ came from someone who was 40 years old it might be expected that it would survive another 25 years.  If a potential recipient was 65 and had an expected life span of 75 the available organ might instead go to someone younger, even though the younger person might not be as sick.  A very tough ethical question being asked in light of the on-going organ shortage.

Romney/Ryan are promising to “Change the system for the better.” Unfortunately we don’t know what that is.  What we do know is that both men have committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act.  If they do that, the donut hole will open again, maybe bigger than ever, preventive services will disappear and many senior citizens may be faced with making horrible choices like, eating instead of taking medications.

The GOP ticket is also committed to further spending cuts and if past performance is an indication Medicaid will get cut again, which may mean that there will be few if any Medicaid financed organ transplants.

While neither of the GOP team has said a word about Transplant coverage one certainly gets the feeling that everything to do with health care is on the table.  Here’s the Romney plan according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Romney has said he would waive as much of the 2010 law as he could through his authority as president, and push Congress to repeal the rest. In its place, he would seek a premium-support system like the one Ryan proposed for those becoming eligible for Medicare in 2022 and beyond. Private insurers would compete with Medicare in a new marketplace, or exchange, with each offering coverage roughly equivalent to what Medicare offers. Instead of offering seniors Medicare coverage, the government would provide an insurance subsidy equal to the second-least-expensive offering in the exchange. Seniors who didn’t want that particular coverage could use the subsidy to buy the less expensive insurance and keep the change, or sign up for more expensive coverage and pay the difference out of pocket.”  http://tinyurl.com/8jl5xpb

A new report, (August 24, 2012) from the Center for American Progress finds that the Romney/Ryan proposal to transform Medicare’s guaranteed benefit into a “premium support” structure for future retirees could increase costs by almost $60,000 for seniors reaching the age of 65 in 2023. http://tinyurl.com/9rh2pyo  The Romney/Ryan campaign says this report is inaccurate.

Here’s what bothers me about the Romney/Ryan plan.  It turns nearly everything over to the private sector which, when combined with the Republican penchant for de-regulation, threatens the elderly with minimal coverage for maximum cost for a minimum of people.

Perhaps Romney/Ryan will come up with a more detailed proposal that will offer more certainty, but this sounds too much like a dismantling of Medicare with the result being that seniors will just buy insurance in the private marketplace like everyone else.  Most importantly, though, it appears that Obamacare offers a more certain possibility of organ transplant coverage than does Romney/Ryan which makes no mention of the procedure.  Additionally, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, pre-existing conditions will return which would automatically rule out anyone who needs a transplant.  And…along those same lines, I can’t think of a single senior citizen who doesn’t have at least one pre-existing condition that would prevent insurance coverage.

On balance, both options leave a lot to be desired for seniors, but repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be a disaster for many of us, especially when faced with the ever increasing cost of drugs, and the senior citizen need for more medications as we age.  Re-opening the donut hole is just not an acceptable option for us.

There is still plenty of time between now and Election Day for Romney/Ryan to clarify their plan and to specifically mention organ and tissue transplant coverage but until they do this blog will play it safe and endorse the present flawed but more understandable Medicare/Obamacare system.

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

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