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Elderly and Expendable

The Obama Administration and the President's pals in Congress have been on a deliberate course to write off America's senior citizens as a lost cause politically. This decision is based on an internal Democrat study indicating that seniors don't trust Obama.

The Democrats, in fact, have stiffed the country's seniors: ranging from multi-billion dollar cuts in Medicare to driving physicians to drop seniors as patients by delaying and cutting federal reimbursements to such medical specialists as cardiologists and oncologists, who treat the biggest killers of seniors-heart disease and cancer.

elderlyThe disdain toward seniors has included cuts in home health care and payments to hospitals to new taxes on medical devices on which many seniors depend. Add to this: increases in the medicare tax on some working seniors and cancellation of the traditional cost-of-living boost to Social Security checks for 2010 and 2011.

During the stretched-out debate over the new health law, seniors  continually heard that Medicare would be slashed by $500 billion. The final bill's provisions included $132 billion chopped from Medicare Advantage, the enhanced private version of Medicare in which 25 percent of seniors are enrolled.

Implemented over 10 years, it would chip away at their benefits and worry old folks that lower payments will force health providers to stop taking new Medicare patients.

"From all I have been able to tell so far, it's going to hurt," said Dalton, Ga., resident Horton Herrin, 72. The retired Georgia state employee has a private Medicare Advantage plan that is targeted for cuts under the health reform package.

Even though Obama's 2008 election was historic in many ways his performance among seniors (age 65 and over) provided one of the few low points. Exit pools showed that Obama lost to John McCain among seniors 45 to 53 percent.

According to an important 2009 analysis by Democracy Corps, founded by Democrat strategists Stan Greenberg and James Carville, "The central reason that white seniors did not support Obama is that they feared the type of change he would bring. They remained skeptical about whose side Obama was on, distrusted him generally, and specifically were concerned about this level of experience. These feelings that hold white seniors back from Obama were particularly true among white senior men and seniors without a college degree...."

A recent Rasmussen Poll found that 59 percent of voting seniors favor repeal of the ObamaCare law. Well aware of this skepticism of the President's policies, Obama is certainly not depending on seniors as part of his political support base.

The latest move irking the aging was when the Senate went on Memorial Day vacation without fixing the cut in payments to doctors for Medicare patients. Seniors didn't know if their doctor bills would be paid. As American Medical Association (AMA) President James Rohack said: "The U.S. Senate turned its back on our nation's seniors and physicians who care for them by going on vacation...without making a fix in the federal reimbursement rate for doctors who care for Medicare recipients."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) sent letters to doctors informing them that the agency had told Medicare contractors to delay processing Medicare claims for 10 business days. This was to give Congress time to fix the reimbursement legislation. But it left Medicare patients wondering if and when Medicare would pay for a visit to their doctor.

So, some seniors worried from Memorial Day until June 14 when CMS contractors were allowed to begin claims processing since the threatened 21 percent cut to Medicare physicians' payment rates had been set in the House, but still not determined in the Senate. The American College of Cardiology CEO Jack Lewin branded the Senate's failure to act "the worst-case scenario for patients and physicians."

The Administration is further causing seniors to fret in naming a new administrator for Medicare and Medicaid who believes fervently in rationing care. Dr. Donald Berwick, President Obama's choice to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is president of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement and professor at Harvard Medical School. "The decision is not whether or not we will ration care. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open," he has said.

Dr. Berwick made that statement when discussing duties of the Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER). That body was part of the original $787 billion stimulus law. CER was created to evaluate the cost of medical treatments and their outcome.  Dr. Berwick is enamored with the British system of health care, particularly the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which is, as TIME magazine described it: "a rationing panel for British patients." Dr. Berwick also has been quoted as saying: "I am a romantic about the (British) National Health Service. I love it."

He also has been quoted as saying "If I could wave a magic want...health care (would be) a common good-single payer (system) a nonnegotiable starting place." Britain's CER model "calculates a treatment by quality-adjusted life years, refusing to pay for a treatment..." costing a certain amount that doesn't "extend a patient's life by at least one year."

Of course, Obama hasn't given up completely on any possible voters in the next presidential race. His Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius sent out a slick four-color folder in May to all Medicare recipients in the U.S. saying the new health law "will provide you and your family greater savings and increased quality care...so that you, and your family, and doctor-not insurance companies-have greater control over your care."

Republican Senate leaders called it propaganda and inaccurate. They demanded that Sebelius tell who commissioned the message and approved the money to mail it. A request to CMS for the cost of the folder and it mailing is still pending.

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