Seeks National Action to Fulfill Commitment to America's Elderly
April 29, 2004
"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.
"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:
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.
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