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AARP Urges Against Chopping Entitlements to Cope with Rising Health Costs

JANUARY 27, 2006 -- Congress shouldn't tackle the problem of rising health costs by chopping Medicare and Medicaid, the senior lobby AARP advised Friday in laying out its legislative agenda for 2006.

"Just cutting benefits and services instead of attacking escalating health care costs will only make things worse," the lobby said in a two-page statement of its goals this year on Capitol Hill.

Both business and government are trying to shift pension and health care costs to employees, said the lobby's CEO Bill Novelli. The trend reinforces the "great importance of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as the bedrock or our nation's retirement security," the AARP said.

AARP says in its statement it will "work hard" to see Congress passes legislation this year to lower health costs by allowing the "safe and legal" importation of low-cost prescription drugs from other countries. HHS should be given the power to negotiate with drug companies how much Medicare will pay to cover prescription drugs. And access to the extra prescription drug benefits low-income beneficiaries receive should no longer be barred to those qualify based on income but who are ineligible because of assets they own, according to AARP.

Health care costs should be tackled more broadly through legislation promoting the adoption of health care information technology and easy public access to the prices of drugs and doctor, hospital, and diagnostic care, the group urges. Legislation also should spur greater reliance by health care providers on treatment practices justified by the medical literature. And lawmakers should ensure quality of care is rewarded through payment-for-performance systems.

In the area of long-term care, Congress should expand the availability of services outside the nursing home through home- and community-based care. Those who provide care to the frail and disabled should receive tax credits for doing so, and private long-term care insurance policies should be made more affordable, AARP said.

Congress also should pass legislation rejecting long-term care eligibility rules such as penalties for charitable giving and lengthening the period before entry into a nursing home in which assets can't be sold.

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