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HUD director and Elder Affairs secretary visit Chicopee COA

Date: 3/30/2011

March 30, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

CHICOPEE — Christie L. Hager, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs Ann Hartstein have some simple advice for senior citizens: If you are confused about health insurance issues, contact a Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders (SHINE) counselor through a senior center.

Hager and Hartstein appeared at a question and answer session at the Chicopee Council on Aging on March 24.

Hager said that making sure people understand the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — healthcare legislation proposed by President Barack Obama and passed by Congress a year ago — is part of her role.

This was the fourth joint appearance Hager and Hartstein have made across the state. The two officials answered questions primarily on the federal health legislation.

"We see gaps in understanding," Hager said. Meeting with seniors "offers a great opportunity to leave them with assurance," she added.

Hager said that seniors will be receiving checks to help cover the gap in the coverage of prescription drugs — the much publicized "doughnut hole" — and there will be more benefits in years to come.

Hartstein noted that on Jan. 1, the first members of the Baby Boom generation turned 65 and she added their entrance into that age "will change retirement."

The number of people over the age of 65 is increasing and she said in Chicopee there are 12,000 seniors or about 25 percent of the population. Statewide, the number of people more than 65 years of age is 20 percent.

Hartstein noted those people with concerns about the ACA should speak to legislators about changes they would like to see.

Hager said those who supported the ACA "took great political courage to fight for the benefits you enjoy under the ACA."

Seniors, she explained, would see a 50 percent discount on name brand prescription drugs that fall into the "doughnut hole" under the ACA. Every year the "doughnut hole" will decrease, so more prescriptions are covered until 2020, when it will disappear, Hager explained.

Also under the ACA, Medicare will cover many medial tesst and flu shots without a co-payment.

Hager also noted the ACA allows for adult children to be on their parents' health insurance plans and ensures coverage despite existing health problems.

Hartstein asked the seniors to look into the state's Prescription Advantage program. If they qualify, they could save money on prescriptions not covered by federal programs.

One senior remarked that while the programs seem to do "a lot of good things," he questioned who is going to pay for it. The senior also questioned why people should be forced to buy health insurance.

Hartstein said state law requires people over the age of 18 to have health insurance. If they qualify, they may receive subsidized insurance. She explained the state law reflects "a commitment of society to have a healthy society."

Hartstein added that in the long run, the cost of health insurance should decrease if people receive adequate medical care when they are younger.

"One of the goals of having more people with health insurance is to keep rates from increasing at historic rates," Hager said.

She described the ACA as "really a change in culture."

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