BANGOR, Maine — Senior citizens and their families, along with lawmakers and others in the Bangor area interested in the federal Medicare program, are invited to a buffet lunch and a celebration of the 45th anniversary of the popular government-run health program.
The party will take place from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, July 29, at the First United Methodist Church, 703 Essex St. in Bangor. The site is the newest of several Community Cafes for the Meals for ME program run by the Eastern Area Agency on Aging.
The event will celebrate President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 signing of federal Medicare legislation, which provides health care coverage to Americans age 65 and older. It also will highlight changes to the Medicare program related to national health reform. Speakers at the luncheon will explain some of these changes, and guests will be encouraged to ask questions or express concerns.
“This is for seniors with an interest in what the reform is all about,” said Carol Higgins Taylor of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, one of the sponsors of the event. “Seniors are afraid that Medicare will go away or that their services will be cut. You hear a lot of rumors.”
The good news for seniors, Taylor said, begins this year.
Those who are enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug benefit and who fall into the “doughnut hole” coverage gap will receive a $250 rebate. In time, national reform provides for the gap to be closed completely.
Taylor said Medicare beneficiaries now can receive a free annual wellness visit. Preventive screenings for cancer, diabetes and other conditions will be provided with no out-of-pocket co-payment. National reform also calls for improved coordination of seniors’ care to keep them healthier between doctors’ visits and avoid hos-pitalization for chronic illnesses.
The Medicaid program for low-income and disabled Americans also celebrates its 45th birthday this year. That program also will be affected by the national health care reform, including a far-reaching expansion in eligibility guidelines. Many Maine seniors are covered by both Medicare and Medicaid.
Andrea Irwin of the Augusta-based advocacy organization Consumers for Affordable Health Care said changes in the two public programs will help pave the way for similar initiatives in the private insurance sector and the health care delivery system as a whole. Improved efficiency, coordination and quality of care not only will help keep people healthier, she said, but also will help drive down unnecessary spending.
“If we can make it work for [the Medicare and Medicaid] population, we can make it work for the entire health care system,” she said.
Those who want to attend the July 29 luncheon should call 800-432-7812 by July 27 to reserve a seat. Seniors will pay by donation, and all others will be charged $5.