Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Elders demand full coverage in health care

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A local senior citizen interest group launched a national petition drive Monday calling for more comprehensive prescription drug benefits than President Bush has proposed.

        “We worked all our lives, paid our taxes and were happy to do it. But it's unfair the way (seniors) are being treated,” said Audrey Buehler, a resident of the Clifton Senior Center. “This is a great country. Why can't they take care of us?”

        The All-American Senior Health Initiative has created a Web site to distribute its petition forms nationwide. Its goal: senior health independence by the Fourth of July.

        Members criticize President Bush for proposing a $1.6 trillion tax cut while offering what they say is a weak prescription drug plan.

        The Bush proposal, yet to be formally introduced, calls for a subsidized program for the poorest seniors, while others would get the option of buying coverage from private insurers.

        The All-American Senior Health Initiative's petition calls for:

        • Expanding Medicare to cover prescription drugs, dental, hearing, vision and mental-health benefits, regardless of income.

        • Allowing HMOs to compete with Medicare, but only if they offer at least the same expanded benefits. Also, HMOs would not be allowed to drop members once accepted.

        • Creating a national cost-oversight committee, similar to one in Canada, for drugs and medical supplies.

        • Expanding medical research funding.

        “We're saying that before you spend a penny of that money (on a tax cut), deal with the emerging national crisis first,” said group organizer Marilyn Hyland, a Democrat who lost a primary for the Hamilton County Commission race last year.

        The group was founded last fall as the Greater Cincinnati Senior Citizen Health Care Initiative, but recently changed its name.

        Early members include seniors, several doctors and community activists who were angered when three Medicare HMOs pulled out of town last year, dropping nearly 27,000 seniors.

        The group hopes to complete its petition drive by tax day, April 15. For information, contact www.allamericanseniorhealth.org.


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