From Sunlen Miller
On day 50 of the ongoing crisis in the Gulf, President Obama today took a break from publically mentioning the oil spill, never once during the course of the hour-long town hall uttering the word “oil.”
Today it was all about the doughnut hole.
The event today at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center in Wheaton, Maryland — dubbed by the White House as a “national telephone-town hall meeting” – was meant to mark the first mailing of the $250 “doughnut hole” rebate checks starting to be sent to seniors on Thursday.
The White House says this – within the Affordable Care Act — will help more than 4 million seniors by the end of this year.
“Beginning next year, if you fall into the coverage gap, you’ll get a 50-percent discount on the brand-name medicine that you need,” Obama touted, “And by 2020 — it’s being phased in, but by 2020, this law will close the doughnut hole completely. The doughnut hole will be gone. It will be gone.”
President Obama was asked by someone in the audience why it will take so long – 10 years – to close the hole completely.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s just a matter of money,” Obama said, “It’s very expensive to close this doughnut hole. When the prescription drug plan was originally passed — frankly, we shouldn’t have had a doughnut hole in the first place, but once that hole was created, then each year the budget was assuming that doughnut hole was there. For us to close that right away would have blown a hole through the budget.”
Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius will notify all state Attorneys General today asking them to be partners in protecting against Medicare fraud. Speaking to a room full of seniors, the president said today that the fraud allegations, often targeted at seniors, is something that has appalled and infuriated him.
“I want to send a notice to all who would swindle and steal from seniors and the Medicare system: We are going to find you, we will prosecute you, and we will ultimately prevent those crimes from happening ever again.”
Secretary Sebelius and Attorney General Holder have established a joint Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) to increase awareness and identify fraud.
The president said that after an intense period of debate, there is still a lot of misinformation out there. Today’s stop was meant to assure seniors that their Medicare benefits would be there for them.
“We made a promise to seniors,” Obama said, “This new law recognizes that Medicare isn’t just something that you’re entitled to when you reach 65, it’s something that you’ve earned. It’s something that you’ve worked a lifetime for, having the security of knowing that Medicare will be there when you need it. It’s a sacred and inviolable trust between you and your country.“
Over the long term, the president urged Capitol Hill to pass a short-term fix on doctor pay today and reform the pay system over the long term.
The president warned that “an entire party” is out there “running on a platform of repeal” of the health care bill.
“They want to roll back all these reform efforts. They say they have their own plan, but over the last 14 months of debate, they never seriously advanced it. And when you look at it, you can see why. They’d roll back the rebate to help you pay for your medicine if you fall in the doughnut hole. They’d roll back the free preventive care for Medicare recipients. And then away from seniors, they’d roll back all the insurance provisions that make sure that insurance companies aren’t cheating folks who are paying their premiums.”
Within the Q and A, a woman voiced concern about how health care changes will impact choices around nursing home living.
“My friends and I want to live independently,” she said.
This prompted President Obama to relate a story of his grandmother – who lived in a small apartment in Honolulu until her death in 2008, despite having serious illnesses.
“She was always very proud and insistent,” he said of his late grandmother, “And until the end of her life, she insisted on making sure that she could live in her apartment. And there are all kinds of different options for different people. The key is we want to give choice to seniors, what’s best for them.”
ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports that today’s event gave Republicans on the Hill an opportunity to re-litigate the health care issue as well. More from Wolf HERE.