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Perriello fields calls on reform bill
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U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Health care reform legislation recently enacted by Congress contains "some exciting things" for seniors, according to 5th District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello.

They include extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by about a decade, closing the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D prescription coverage and eliminating copayments and deductibles for preventive care, Perriello, D-Albemarle County, said during a telephone town hall meeting Monday.

The meeting was based at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, where about 75 people were gathered. However, Perriello representatives said more than 5,400 people in the district participated, mostly on the phone.

Some of those listeners - including several area residents - were able to ask Perriello questions about the reform and other health care issues.

Many of the reform measures under the legislation began immediately or will take effect soon, but some take effect gradually during the next 10 years, according to information provided by Perriello representatives.

Dr. Thomas Berry of Martinsville, a surgeon, asked the congressman why some measures take effect sooner than others.

In his response, Perriello mentioned some of the reform measures, including tax credits of up to 35 percent of insurance premiums that will be made available immediately to small businesses offering employee health coverage.

After the telephone town hall meeting, Berry said he was not able to hear Perriello's response well due to noise on the phone line. But he said that he already knew the answer to the question before he asked it.

Some measures take effect sooner than others "to spread the cost out," Berry said. "Everybody knows that."�

In a call after the meeting, Jessica Barba, Perriello's press secretary, cited reasons why some measures take effect sooner than others.

One is to give states time to start "exchanges" that will allow "a number of insurance companies to compete for business" in those states, she said.

The exchanges will be much like open markets, she said, reasoning that the more competition there is among insurers, the lower insurance costs will be.

Another reason is that the legislation provides "significant investment" in training people to be primary care doctors, Barba said. The reform provides time for enough physicians to be trained "to care for the influx of patients" that will enter the health care system, she said.

Under the legislation, a $250 rebate will be provided to Medicare recipients who reach the "doughnut hole" coverage gap under Part D this year. Next year, the provision institutes a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs and the hole is closed completely by 2020, according to information from Perriello's office.

During the telephone meeting, Paulette Pearman of Cascade asked why the doughnut hole cannot be completely eliminated faster.

"I'd like to see it closed sooner," Perriello said. But "we did the best we could" in negotiations among lawmakers.

He said Congress could examine the provision again in the future, but for now, the current plan to eliminate the gap is "a pretty good start."�

The legislation provides $700 million during the next 10 years to "go after waste, fraud and abuse" in the Medicare system, Perriello said.

He said that for every dollar spent on eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, the federal government expects to recoup about $1.75.

A Stanleytown woman, whose name could not be heard due to noise on the line, asked Perriello why it has taken so long for Congress to pursue that.

"We've been hearing more and more about it (the issue) from seniors," said Perriello.

Still, he attributed it largely to party politics. He said that until now, when one party has tried to tackle waste, fraud and abuse, the other party would accuse it of wanting to harm people's medical care. He did not identify the parties to which he was referring.

Barba said much of the government's costs to implement health care reform will be made up through savings achieved as the overall cost of providing care decreases.

The government also will recoup some of its costs through fees that will be imposed on certain industries such as insurance providers and manufacturers of drugs and medical devices, Barba said.

Frank Hubbard of Collinsville asked whether the reform legislation extends COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) health insurance assistance to people who lose their jobs.

Perriello did not rule out the possibility of COBRA assistance being extended in the future. But he said the reform legislation focuses on making affordable health insurance available to people who need it, regardless of whether they have jobs or are looking for work.

During the telephone town hall meeting, Perriello representatives took a survey of people at the Senior Center and listening by phone. About 89 percent responded that they found the information they heard useful.


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