2009-08-14 / Front Page

Seniors Shaky Over Health Care Reform

By Howard Schwach

Go anywhere in Rockaway where senior citizens gather and you'll hear one topic discussed and debated over and over again, a topic that many seniors consider a matter of life or death.

And, those who spend sleepless nights worried about health care and its proposed reform may well be right. For the thousands of senior citizens who populate the Rockaway peninsula, health care may well be a matter of life or death.

Their nervousness over the issue was not assuaged this week by either their congressman or by various postings on the Internet, postings that posited that senior citizens would be considered "expendable" under President Obama's proposed plan and would therefore be denied lifesaving and other medical care.

On his website (weiner.house.gov) this week, Congressman Anthony Weiner said that he is in favor of a "single-payer system," which most typically means a public, non-profit system.

On that site, Weiner also said that he it is "put up or shut up time for the GOP" and he would soon offer an amendment to the new health care bill that would "eliminate the Medicare program."

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Weiner said that the posting was a joke, "a way to point out the hypocrisy of the GOP. They fight against a public plan, but would never consider doing away with Medicare, the best public plan ever passed."

To many seniors, even a joke about doing away with Medicare is inappropriate because Medicare is the prime payer for the majority of their health care and pharmaceutical needs.

"It's hard enough to pay for medical care with Medicare," said one 70-yearold Belle Harbor resident who asked not to be identified. "Without Medicare or something like it, my wife and I would never be able to afford either the doctors or medication that we need to keep us active and alive, especially with the small amount that Social Security pays each month."

"Any politician who supports doing away with Medicare faces a really tough reelection bid," he added with a laugh. "Weiner says that we would have to join his plan and we would have to pay in for that plan. I paid every week of my 40-year work life so that I wouldn't have to pay in any more."

Local residents say they have called Weiner's office, requesting a town hall meeting in Rockaway, which has a significant senior citizen population, but to no avail.

At a Howard Beach town hall meeting earlier this week, Weiner said that everybody should have health care and that everybody should share the cost of those who cannot afford coverage.

He put forth his own single-payer plan that is at odds with the White House plan put forth by President Obama, which is presently being hotly debated in both the House and Senate.

Weiner told reporters, however, that his plan would not stop seniors from keeping their present, private plans, calling that fear "one of the yarns that have been spun for the plan's opponents to scare people."

To see just how well those scare tactics are working, one only has to look at a recent Internet posting called "Senior Death Warrants," which was spread by email around the Internet at warp speed.

The long email screed posited that the Democrats are pushing a form of health care triage in which senior citizens would be allowed to die should their care become too expensive.

It credits Senator Tom Daschle with saying, "Health care reform will not be pain free. Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age rather than with treating them."

It said that British citizens over the age of 59 cannot receive heart repairs or bypass surgery because they are deemed unnecessary and, therefore, are not covered.

It says that the Obama bill will ration health care for seniors.

Snopes.com, a website that debunks emails such as this one, ran a twopage explanation showing that the Daschle quote was not a quote at all, but taken from a news article that spoke about him and his health-care aims. In like form, it debunked each of the other assertions in the email.

That did not stop seniors from believing its assertions. At The Wave, we received the email forwarded to its editors by at least a dozen readers, all of whom wanted us to print it in its entirety, so that people would "know the truth" about the proposed reform.

Meanwhile, the debate rages on across Rockaway and across the nation.

One senior seems unconcerned.

"This has become so contentious," she said, "that I will never see it in my lifetime. After that, who cares."

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