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Patient Advocacy Groups Call on Congress to Eliminate Two-Year Waiting Period for Medicare

WASHINGTON, DC (November 12, 2008)—The Coalition to End the Two-Year Wait for Medicare—over 75 health advocacy organizations—today launched its campaign to urge the next Congress to end the 24-month wait for Medicare coverage faced by people with disabilities.

"This coalition will give voice to people with disabilities and their families who struggle to pay medical bills or who go without critically needed care as they wait for Medicare coverage to begin," said Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center. "This senseless delay in health coverage for the most vulnerable among us must end."

In a letter to Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, the coalition called for health coverage for people with disabilities to be at the forefront of efforts to cover the uninsured.

"This arcane rule continues to exist despite the potential harm it causes to the health of the 1.5 million people waiting for coverage. Nearly 40 percent of these individuals are without health insurance coverage at some point during their wait for Medicare; 24 percent have no health insurance during this entire period. Many cannot afford to pay COBRA premiums to maintain coverage from their former employer, and private coverage on the individual market is unavailable or too expensive for this high-cost population. The economic downturn makes it difficult for states to extend Medicaid coverage beyond the most impoverished people with disabilities," the coalition letter reads. "No one with disabilities severe enough to qualify for SSDI should be without health insurance."

Coalition leaders released the letter and launched their campaign at a 10 am press conference in room HC-6 of the Capitol Building. People currently caught up in the waiting period described their experiences and Representative Gene Green (D-TX) described legislative efforts to eliminate the waiting period.

"After receiving a life-altering diagnosis, people with disabilities, such as the half million people with young-onset Alzheimer's disease, must then wait two full years for Medicare coverage at a time when they need coverage the most," said Brenda Sulick, the Alzheimer's Association's Director of Federal Health Policy. "Those with profound disabilities are often overlooked. With so many lives at stake, now is the time to act."

Legislation to phase out the waiting period over ten years has been introduced in the House and Senate. In the Senate, S.2102 is sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and cosponsored by 23 senators, including President-elect Barack Obama. In the House, H.R. 154, sponsored by Representative Gene Green (D-TX) has 103 cosponsors.

As Congress and our new administration address America's health care crisis, they must place a high priority on closing the gap in coverage that affects a group of Americans most in need of guaranteed access to health care—people with severe disabilities who are waiting to become eligible for Medicare coverage.

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Contact:
Paul Precht, Director of Policy and Communications
Medicare Rights Center
202-544-5561

Contact:
Akiko Takano, Deputy Director of Communications
Medicare Rights Center
212-204-6214

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