The Affordable Care Act’s impact on Medicare - and how to combat the glut of misinformation surrounding the law - were key topics at the October NYSUT Retiree Contiguous ED 51-53 meeting in Albany. Speakers dispelled myths, clarified provisions and offered guidance on what to do, and what not to do, as enrollment for the new health care plan, also known as Obamacare, begins.
NYSUT officers welcoming retirees included President Dick Iannuzzi, Vice President Maria Neira and Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who thanked retirees for their advocacy. "We have a big legislative year coming up and we can’t do it without you," Donahue said.
Allison Cook, an education associate at the Medicare Rights Center, discussed the different aspects of Medicare and how the ACA impacts the program. Key to remember is that the state-run health-care exchanges are only for individuals under 65 who don’t have Medicare, said Cook. "Plans through the ACA exchange are costlier than Medicare, and often don’t provide as much coverage."
Retirees should only use the exchange if they’re not eligible for Medicare, and lack health coverage through a former employer. "Once you turn 65, enroll in Medicare," said Cook.
Improvements to Medicare under the ACA include the gradual elimination of the Part D prescription "donut hole;" little to no co-pays for a variety of preventative services, including diabetes screenings and mammograms; and free annual wellness visits. "In 2014, those in the donut hole will receive a 52.5 percent discount on brand-name drugs and a 28 percent discount on generics," said Cook, explaining that the hole closes completely in 2020.
Donald Nobles, RC 24-25, cautioned that the Democrats must do a better job of spreading the facts about the ACA. "The lies play better than the reality," he said.
Manny and Eileen Darwin of RC 23 agree. They contacted their congressman after receiving an email packed with misinformation about the ACA. "It’s dangerous because they seem believable," said Eileen Darwin. "I asked if there was some way to stop them."
On the federal legislative front, retirees heard from Al Campos, a federal lobbyist for the National Education Association. Mitigating the effects of the Budget Control Act/sequester and closing tax loopholes are top concerns, he said. "About $3 billion has been cut from education programs and students and members are being hit hard," said Campos. "NEA remains committed to replacing the sequester cuts and ensuring the wealthy pay their fair share.
Protecting Social Security and state pensions also remain on the radar. "Statistics show many are struggling to save for retirement, these issues will stay at the forefront of national policy," Campos said.
Other speakers included Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy for all Coalition, a state group that was instrumental in increasing New York’s minimum wage; New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; and Anthony Bifaro, retired assistant to the NYSUT president.