National Council on Aging Poll Shows Americans Want Congress to Protect Poor Seniors from Rising Medicare Costs This Year

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National poll finds that 89 percent of adults aged 18 and over want Congress to make improving programs to protect low-income seniors against rising Medicare costs a top priority.

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Many poor seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare are eligible for assistance with their health care costs, but continue to face significant enrollment barriers. They are still forced to choose between paying for rising food costs and needed prescription drugs, and between doctor visits and increasing electric bills. We can and must do better.

Many older Americans, especially those with limited incomes and resources, are already struggling with increased food and gasoline prices. They should not need to worry about rapidly rising Medicare premiums or how they will be able to afford their health care costs, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

A telephone poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the NCOA found that 89 percent of adults aged 18 and over believe that improving programs to protect low-income seniors against rising Medicare costs should be a top priority for Congress this year.

"Regardless of age, income, or party identification, the vast majority of Americans believe that Congress should improve Medicare this year to better protect seniors in greatest need against these rising costs," said Howard Bedlin, NCOA vice president of Policy and Advocacy.

The poll was released in conjunction with a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing today, Seniors At Risk, Improving Medicare For Our Most Vulnerable, highlighting the need for Congress to make improvements to Medicare low-income assistance programs.

Senate leaders are currently crafting Medicare legislation that is expected to be voted on in June. The bill is primarily designed to increase payments to physicians, which will likely cause additional increases in Part B premiums that have already more than doubled since 2000.

"Protections designed to help beneficiaries with income below about $15,000 with rising out-of-pocket costs, such as Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs), are badly broken and must be fixed," Bedlin added. "There are serious barriers to participation, resulting in enrollment rates estimated to be as low as only 13 percent. In addition, asset eligibility thresholds have not been adjusted to reflect inflation in almost 20 years."

The NCOA/Harris Interactive survey, conducted between May 15-18, found that 91 percent of those polled support simplifying eligibility rules for these Medicare programs to make it easier for low-income beneficiaries to get the help they need. The survey also found that the American public strongly supports proposals that would fix some of the other problems associated with historically low enrollment. Specifically, 86 percent of respondents support raising asset eligibility levels for Medicare low-income assistance programs, and 87 percent support increased funding to find and enroll low-income beneficiaries in these programs.

In an effort to address these problems, NCOA and a diverse group of national organizations representing seniors and persons with disabilities have come together in support of provisions to improve the legislation. In a letter to the Senate released today, over 40 organizations urged Senators to simplify and align low-income assistance programs (including MSPs and the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy); improve outreach and participation for those currently eligible; and stop penalizing seniors who did the right thing in putting aside a modest nest egg of savings for retirement by bringing outdated asset limits in line with today's cost of living. Organizations signing the letter agreed that: "Helping vulnerable beneficiaries with income below $15,000 is as or more important than helping doctors with income over $150,000."

The Senate letter also states: "Many poor seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare are eligible for assistance with their health care costs, but continue to face significant enrollment barriers. They are still forced to choose between paying for rising food costs and needed prescription drugs, and between doctor visits and increasing electric bills. We can and must do better."

In addition to NCOA, national organizations signing the letter include: AARP, AFL-CIO, American Association of People with Disabilities, Alzheimer's Association, Easter Seals, Medicare Rights Center, National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Service Employees International Union, and United Cerebral Palsy.

Visit http://www.ncoa.org and click on "Survey" under NCOA News to see the poll and the letter.

Methodology: The NCOA/Harris Interactive telephone poll was conducted within the US between May 15 and 18, 2008 among a nationwide cross-section of 1,004 adults (ages 18+). The sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points.

Founded in 1950, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) has a mission to improve the lives of older Americans. A non-profit organization with 3,700 members, we also have a national network of some 14,000 organizations and leaders that help us in our work. NCOA members include senior centers, area agencies on aging, adult day service centers, faith-based service organizations, senior housing facilities, employment services, consumer groups and leaders from academia, business and labor. Our programs help older people remain healthy and independent, find jobs, increase access to benefits programs, and discover meaningful ways to continue contributing to society. Please visit our website at: http://www.ncoa.org

Contact:
Scott L. Parkin
202-479-6975 (office); 202-657-2894 (cell)
scott.parkin(at)ncoa.org

This press release was distributed through eMediawire by Human Resources Marketer (HR Marketer: http://www.HRmarketer.com) on behalf of the company listed above.

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