Sebelius: Medicare 'stronger than ever' due to healthcare law

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius praised the healthcare reform law Monday for bolstering Medicare and appeared to criticize GOP proposals that would partially privatize the program.

"Before the [healthcare] law passed, there were gaps in Medicare coverage," Sebelius said at a town hall on seniors' health sponsored by the White House.

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"When you add all the savings in the law up, the average Medicare beneficiary will save $4,200 over the next nine years. And those seniors with high drug costs will see even greater benefits." 

She added that the law will "maintain all the guaranteed Medicare benefits" seniors now enjoy — "unlike some recent proposals." 

"What all of this means is that Medicare is now going to be stronger than ever. Seniors will have better benefits, lower prescription costs and more affordable preventive care. And their children and grandchildren will have a stronger Medicare in the future," Sebelius said.

Parts of the Obama administration have continued to praise the law, even as the Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality looms.

A decision is expected by the end of June.

Sebelius's comments echoed those she gave at a women's health town hall on June 7.

There, she said that she is "confident and optimistic" the law will be upheld, but that "we'll be ready for contingencies" if it is not.

A recent report said Obama has privately expressed concerns he could have to revisit healthcare issues in a second term — an attitude that contradicts the confidence he's expressed publicly that the court will rule for the law.

Sebelius’s remarks came on the same day that Republican lawmakers stated that “the status quo in Medicare is a threat to seniors' care.”

In an informational document, the GOP Doctors' Caucus listed common Republican complaints about Medicare — that its eligibility age needs raising and that some of the program's budget is lost to fraud, among other complaints.

The caucus also complained that the health law's Independent Payment Advisory Board, which will recommend ways to reduce Medicare spending, was a panel of “unelected bureaucrats.”

“They will be charged with developing proposals that cut Medicare — and because the panel is prohibited from suggesting common-sense changes, the panel will only be able to cut reimbursements to physicians and other healthcare providers, resulting in delay and denial of care,” the document argues.

The board’s first recommendations are due in 2014.

Sebelius focused Monday on the affordability of prescription drugs and preventive care services for seniors.

“The rising cost of prescription drugs forced many seniors into the Medicare Part D doughnut hole where they were responsible for the full cost of expensive, but sometimes life-saving, drugs,” she said. “Many seniors also found critical and potentially life-saving preventive services ... out of reach.”

“Today, thanks to the healthcare law, we’re closing these long-standing gaps in care,” she added.

The GOP document did not mention any specific premium-support proposals, such as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's, (R-Wis.) but said that “every American deserves candor about the challenges the program faces.”

It added: “We believe Congress has a moral obligation to adopt common-sense changes to strengthen Medicare and protect seniors.”

Republicans who signed it were Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), John Boozman (Ark.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) and Reps. Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Phil Roe (Tenn.), Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Diane Black (Tenn.), Renee Ellmers (N.C.), John Fleming (La.), Charles Boustany Jr. (La.), Dan Benishek (Mich.), Larry Bucshon (Ind.) and Andy Harris (Md.).

—This story was updated at 4:55 p.m.

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