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Knowles Calls For Reform Of Seniors' Health Care System
Seeks National Action to Fulfill Commitment to America's Elderly


April 29, 2004

Anchorage, AK - In the second major issues presentation of his campaign, US Senate candidate Tony Knowles (D) talked Wednesday about one of the chief issues on the mind of most American families - the health care needs of our seniors. 

"Without a doubt, America has finest healthcare system in the world, the best doctors, ever-improving technology, and thanks to the Medicare bill that Lyndon Johnson signed into law in 1965, we have the vision, the means and the duty to fulfill one of the most important indicators of a civilized society," Knowles said at Horizon House, an assisted living facility. "But when it comes to problems in this country, most Americans put health care at or near the top of their list."

Knowles said the biggest problems are the vast numbers of uninsured people, including children; the high cost of insurance, for those lucky enough to have it; the skyrocketing costs of health care, particularly prescription drugs; the availability of health care and shortcomings of Medicare and Medicaid; and accessible and affordable health care for seniors - the fastest growing segment of the population.

  • Prescription drug costs are so high that many seniors are forced to make a choice between medicine and food, housing, and other necessities or skip doses to save money and make the medication last longer.
  • The new Medicare bill pays some prescription drug costs starting in 2006, but still leaves a huge gap in coverage.
  • Senior's pocketbooks are being hit by increased health costs, increased Medicare costs, and increased Medigap insurance to cover what Medicare doesn't.
  • Doctors frequently refuse Medicare patients because of the low cost of reimbursement and the waiting period for doctors to get paid.
  • Medicare doesn't cover routine, preventive medicine. Seniors wait until a problem becomes so serious that they need to go to the emergency room, which is covered by Medicare.
  • And on top of that, Alaska seniors recently lost their Longevity Bonuses, which for many - especially those seniors on a fixed income -­ helped defray the cost of prescriptions and make ends meet.

"Washington DC and Congress have failed Alaska seniors," Knowles said. "Congress reluctantly dealt with this issue and when they did, special interests trumped public interest.  Medicare reform was hijacked by the clear beneficiaries: the same big pharmaceutical companies that wrote the bill.  As a result, 8,400 Alaskans will still pay more for prescription drugs, 3,200 will lose low-income protections as eligibility levels are raised, 3,000 will lose retiree benefits, and more than 1,200 Alaskans will pay additional Medicare costs because of changing qualifications," said Knowles.

"Despite these and other its flaws, Medicare remains the best health insurance for our seniors, and these problems are fixable," Knowles said. "Washington, DC may think that the public believes their line that Medicare is fixed and they won't have to deal with it again for the next 15 years.  But we know better.  The job is not done and the issues are increasingly serious to seniors who are under siege financially."

Knowles outlined his Alaska First plan to prevent Alaska seniors from falling through the cracks of Medicare:

Close the prescription drug loophole - Starting in 2006, seniors will pay 25 percent of prescription drug costs totaling $2,200 or less.  Above that, however, seniors pay 100 percent of their drug costs until Medicare kicks back in at $5,100. This $3,600 "doughnut hole" must be closed.
Rein in prescription drug costs that average $10 more in Alaska than the rest of the country, by legalizing importation or re-importation of drugs from Canada and Europe where drugs routinely cost half as much. And allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower prices for prescription drugs.
Stop manipulating eligibility requirements that squeeze out seniors. Alaska seniors are especially hard hit because medical costs are higher here.
Cut the red tape in processing Medicare claims, make sure payments are adequate and on time so doctors accept and keep Medicare patients.  If doctors won't accept Medicare patients, those seniors are effectively denied health care.
Cover routine preventive procedures and doctors' visits which should pay for itself by keeping seniors healthier. Medicare should also have a coverage plan for mental health, dental, visual and hearing services.
Create a plan to cover long-term care which now comes right out of the pockets of the patients or their families. 

To cover the costs of adequately addressing the nation's senior care needs, Knowles said he supported lowering drug costs through negotiations, importation and buying pools; reducing doctor, hospital and other medical costs through negotiated agreements and insurance pools; and allowing families to deduct the cost of long-term insurance could save everyone money and relieve future burdens on the Medicaid system.

And while Knowles supports tax cuts for the middle and low income Americans, he said the nation could ill afford the President's tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.  Eliminating the tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans - those who earn over half a million a year ­ would free up 27 billion dollars each year.

"I know these problems are curable," Knowles said. "Medicare is a federal program but when we had similar issues in the state when I was governor we treated them with Denali KidCare that expanded coverage to children and pregnant women; we reduced drug costs at Pioneers' Homes through negotiated agreements; we sought to expand Pioneers' Home and take in more veterans; we helped senior housing and assisted living programs through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

"Washington is out of touch with real people and their medical and financial problems," Knowles said. "National health care reforms do not go nearly far enough.  But I know we can treat these problems on the national level to help Alaska seniors and America's elderly. As one of the champions of Medicare, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, put it: 'The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped; and those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly'."

"We know what needs to be done," Knowles concluded. "Now it's time America goes to work fulfilling this vision with comprehensive health care for America's seniors."




In the first of a series of addresses on key policy issues, U.S. Senate Candidate Tony Knowles discussed education policy during a news conference in March at his Anchorage headquarters. To read the full text of his speech, click here.



Source of News Release:

Tony Knowles for U.S. Senate Campaign
Web Site



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