New London - In a self-described effort to spur dialogue among his constituents about the future of Medicare, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, hosted a town hall-style meeting Wednesday to review Medicare changes under the Affordable Care Act and to warn voters about what he believes would be a harmful revamping proposed by a Republican budget plan.
"We want to get the public dialogue going so people know what's at stake here," Courtney said, addressing about 70 people gathered at the New London Science and Technology Magnet School.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Courtney said, Medicare costs have been reduced by cutting fraud and waste; by covering screenings and preventive services so ailments can be treated earlier and more economically; and by phasing in a closure of the "doughnut hole" drug benefit coverage so that more seniors can afford to stay on medications, among other measures. PowerPoint slides with figures, graphs and excerpts from government reports supported his remarks.
In contrast, Courtney said, a Medicare plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as part of a GOP budget proposal, would eliminate the Affordable Care Act changes. Under the Ryan plan, by 2023 the eligibility age for the existing Medicare program would be raised from 65 to 67, and traditional Medicare would be replaced by a voucher system for private insurance. People now under age 55 would be covered by the voucher model.
"Can you imagine an 85-year-old trying to go out and buy private health insurance with a voucher?" Courtney asked. "Come on. We can do better than that as a great nation."
Michael Perks of Old Lyme said he is concerned that the Medicare budget, with its current growth rate, is unsustainable. There is a need to reduce the federal deficit, he said, and to accomplish that, the programs that take up the largest portions of the federal budget - Medicare, Social Security and defense - will need to be trimmed.
The Ryan plan, Perks said, "at least is trying to address this issue.
"My question," he said, "is, what is your plan to preserve Medicare for future generations?"
Courtney agreed that more needs to be done to reduce Medicare costs, including reducing prescriptions costs with wholesale purchasing.
"There are ways to balance the budget without blowing up Medicare," he said, adding that Medicare insolvency challenges have been successfully met at other junctures in the program's 47-year history. "There are proposals on the table to make it smarter and better without shifting costs to seniors."
Holding up his Medicare card as his spoke, New London resident Bud Bray urged Courtney and his fellow audience members not to forget the many who are totally dependent on Medicare for their health care coverage.
"All we're asking for is a minimum of coverage," said Bray, 67, adding that since his only income is from Social Security, he cannot afford supplemental insurance.
Another speaker, Robert Canova of Stonington, said the prospect of having to buy private insurance with a voucher after he retires is frightening. He is concerned insurance companies rather than his doctor would end up making decisions about his health care.
"How could I afford to retire?" asked Canova, 50, who is president of the Marine Draftsmans Association at Electric Boat.
New London resident Duncan McKeith said his doctor will not accept new Medicare patients because of continued uncertainty over Medicare reimbursement rates. Congress has delayed scheduled rate cuts at the 11th hour repeatedly but has failed to reach a long-term solution.
"I'm a Republican and you're a Democrat," he told Courtney, "and if you and I can agree, why can't you folks in Congress, both Democrat and Republican, get your act together?"