Johnson County seniors worried cuts will hurt health care


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Ruth Muir, as are many Johnson County senior citizens, is concerned about the future of health care.

"I'm concerned about what will be available to older people," she said, noting the possible cuts that could be made by the Congressional Supercommittee.

Sponsored by the Johnson County Task Force on Aging, Muir and more than 20 others gathered to discuss health-care reform at the Coralville Public Library, 1401 Fifth St., on Monday afternoon.

The forum was held in light of an upcoming deadline for the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — known as the Supercommittee — to come up with a plan to reduce $1.2 trillion from the nation's deficit to avoid automatic spending cuts across the board. The Supercommittee must agree on a plan by Nov. 23.

"I hope that the Supercommittee doesn't cut Social Security or Medicare," said Bob Welsh, the head of the Johnson County Task Force on Aging. "I think that would be a move in the wrong direction."

Many of the attendees sought additional information about and explanation of President Obama's health-reform bill — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — and the potential effect from the Supercommittee's decision.

University of Iowa Professor Peter Damiano, the director of the Public Policy Center and the Health Policy Research Program, said there are many significant changes already in effect.

"The thing that's often misunderstood is the 43 aspects of the law that have already gone into place," he said. "There are a lot of things that are moving forward, and even if the law were completely thrown out, there are going to be sort of legacies of these things that will continue to move forward."

Signed into law March 2010, the health-reform act places most emphasis on individual and small-business insurance markets, Damiano said.

Joe Hand, the communications director for Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said the congressman is working to make sure Iowa's voice is heard.

"Congressman Loebsack believes we need to deal with the fiscal problems facing our country, but we can't do it on the backs of our senior citizens, middle class, or those who are less fortunate," Hand said. "There needs to be a balanced approach, but he does not want to see the Supercommittee cut Social Security and Medicare benefits."

Loebsack plans to present a letter detailing ideas from Iowa constituents on how the Supercommittee should respond to the deficit, Hand said.

"[The possible cuts are] at a huge scope, nothing like this has been done before, and [Rep. Loebsack] wants to make sure this is done right," he said. "It's going to affect everybody."

But overall, Damiano said, health care is a personal and necessary issue, making it an easy topic to politically distort.

"It's very hard for any complex policy issue, whether it's health care or Wall Street reform or whatever," he said. "To get those concepts across to people is just extremely difficult to do. People don't have the attention span to delve into that level of discussion on any of these policies. I mean, they're busy with their lives."

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