By Anna Gustafson
Queens officials gave mixed reactions to the health care bill signed by President Barack Obama this week, with some cheering the legislation they said will help seniors to afford prescriptions and others being more skeptical of the plan they worry could negatively affect elderly individuals.
“It’s a very positive thing for everybody,” said Miriam Burns, who is on the board of the Queens Interagency Council on the Aging. “The doughnut hole is going to be wiped out, which is a significant positive change for seniors.”
President Barack Obama said the law will remedy the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole.” Currently, recipients of Medicare Part D pay the first $300 for prescriptions out of pocket for the deductible and the federal plan then covers the next $2,830 in costs annually.
But the coverage ends once the $2,830 threshold is met until a recipient has to pay more than $6,400, leaving the patient responsible for any drug costs between $2,830 and $6,400 each year.
The Obama administration has said the gap will be fully closed by 2020 and seniors will immediately receive $250 a year to go toward expenses incurred because of the doughnut hole.
“If people reach the point of the doughnut hole and have to start paying out of pocket, many of them cannot pay,” Burns said. “They simply don’t have the money. It becomes a question of if they cut some medication.”
Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Forest Hills-based Queens Jewish Community Council, which works with many older residents, said she was “extremely worried” about the legislation.
“Medicare reform is desirable, but we just don’t know what will happen,” Zalisky said. “Will they have to cut benefits?”
Seniors have voiced concerns about the health care plan, which was in part financed by cuts to the Medicare program. Under the reform bill, there will be a $132 billion cut in federal payments to Medicare Advantage over the next decade. Medicare Advantage is a plan run by private insurers.
Federal officials have said seniors do not need to worry about the new plan.
“This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors,” Obama said in a prepared statement. “It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.