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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 14, 2005

Schumer Grills HHS Nominee On Gaping Hole In Medicare Part D That Could Mean New Yorker Seniors Lose Retiree Health Coverage

At today’s Senate Finance Committee Hearing, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer questioned the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Legislation nominee, Vincent J. Ventimiglia, Jr. on a problem which could impact hundreds of thousands of New York’s seniors. Seniors on Medicaid who have retiree health coverage from their employers are being pulled in different directions with conflicting guidance. The federal government has automatically enrolled them in the new Medicare drug plan, but this will force many of them to lose their retiree health coverage. If they disenroll from the Medicare plan, they’ll get kicked off of Medicaid and will need to reapply at the Medicaid office with a record of documentation. This is too complicated and burdensome for our seniors, and can have severely punitive effects.

Schumer’s Statement, as prepared:

We all know that there have been very serious consequences of the way that the Administration’s Medicare drug program has been implemented. Now an especially problematic situation has been called to my attention in New York.

There are three major interacting pieces of health care coverage for most seniors: Medicare, Medicaid, and health care you get from your old employer once you’re retired. Some people are eligible for all three. This program does a particularly bad job of coordinating the three pieces.

To keep your Medicaid coverage, you have to enroll in the Administration’s drug benefit. But to keep your retiree health coverage, you can’t be enrolled in the Administration’s plan. So what do you do if you have both Medicaid and retiree coverage?

Unfortunately, the Administration doesn’t even let seniors make that choice for themselves. It has automatically enrolled seniors on Medicaid into one of its new drug plans. This means many are at risk for losing their retiree plans which might also provide coverage to their spouses or children. To save that coverage, they must actively disenroll from the Administration’s drug plan by January 1, just three weeks away.

But once they disenroll from the Administration’s drug plan, they’ll get kicked off of Medicaid. In order to get back on Medicaid, they have to visit a Medicaid office with special documentation from their former employer, and re-enroll in the program.

Now this is just ridiculous. We’re talking about people with Alzheimer’s or limited mobility. How do we expect these people to understand the interactions among all these programs, much less navigate them in the right order by the right deadlines?

And to make things worse, there is no one document that tells these people what to do. They are getting multiple documents from Medicare, Medicaid, and their retiree health plans, which often contradict each other.

This is not a small problem. In Cattaraugus County alone, there are 124 nursing home residents, just like Grandma and Grandpa, who have all three pieces of coverage and stand to lose big from this jumble of demands and deadlines.

We shouldn’t impose this kind of stress, anxiety, and burden on anyone in the name of improving health care, especially not our parents and grandparents in the Greatest Generation. We are turning things upside down for people who, in these cases, already have good drug coverage, and forcing them to run an obstacle course just to keep it.

Mr. Ventimiglia, I would like to ask you what the Administration plans to do to make sure that these individuals will not be left behind.

What will the Administration do to make sure that if these seniors do not actively disenroll from the Medicare plan in the next few weeks, they will not lose their employer retiree plans with no hope of getting back on?

And what will HHS do to make sure that, if these seniors do figure out how to disenroll from Part D, they can have uninterrupted Medicaid coverage without requiring them to present a bunch of papers to a Medicaid office?

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