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Retiree Group Marks Medicare, Medicaid Anniversaries With Hopes Of Program Expansions

 Retiree advocates brought a birthday cake to Tallahassee City Hall in honor of the Medicare/Medicaid anniversaries
Retiree advocates brought a birthday cake to Tallahassee City Hall in honor of the Medicare/Medicaid anniversaries

While Medicare coverage might expand during congressional budget reconciliation in the fall, a move is underway to give Florida voters the say on whether the state should expand Medicaid.

For more than a half-century, Medicare has provided health care coverage for America's retirees. Now, an effort is underway to expand Medicare and the Medicaid program for low-income Americans. That was part of a celebration on Friday in Tallahassee:

"Today is the 56th birthday of Medicare and Medicaid."
That statement was made by Barbara Devane. A longtime lobbyist, organizer and advocate, and a persistent presence at the Capitol. On this day, she wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the emblem of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. She and a small group of other alliance members were at Tallahassee City Hall, not only to mark the anniversary, but also to note Congress is working up a budget that could expand the program.

"And then they will come forth in the fall with a reconciliation bill, and we are very optimistic that we'll be in it and it will bring down the price of prescription drugs in Medicare," DeVane noted.

The inability of Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies is a major concern among retirees.

Gloria Smith, a retired teacher, discussed what happened to her husband a few years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer.
"The medication was $3,000 a month for 30 pills for him to survive on," she said.

With no way to afford that cost, Smith explained all they could do was take part in a clinical trial with a different medication.
"He ended up dying a year later after taking that drug instead of taking the drug he really needed that we could not afford," she said.

Teresa Wells also suffered pharmaceutical sticker shock. A COPD patient, she thought Medicare would pay for her medication.

"I got on Medicare, I got my Part D for my prescription drugs. And lo and behold, I found out that what I need to slow the progression of this thing is going to cost me $400 a month with insurance," she said.

Dave Jacobsen, who's a long-time advocate for Florida retirees, said stories like those are common all over the state and nation.

"Everyone in America, no matter where they live, what they look like, or their income, should have access to affordable prescription drugs to stay healthy and to take care of their families," he said.

So groups like the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans plan to keep the pressure on Congress to give Medicare the legal ability to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

There is one more health care matter of concern for these groups. During the week of July 26, the Missouri Supreme Court cleared the way for that state's voters to cast ballots on Medicaid expansion.

Like Florida, lawmakers in Missouri have denied that expansion since the Obama administration. Devane said a similar effort is pending in Florida.

"We are going to have a petition drive to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot because the Republicans won't do it, the people can do it," she said. "The people have the power to do it. The question is are we going to try to do it in 2022 or wait until 2024?"

But it may be circumstances outside of politics that drive the issue. With a resurgent COVID pandemic underway, many polls show that a significant majority of Floridians regardless of party seem to favor greater accessibility to affordable health care.

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