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Seniors Unclear on Healthcare Reform Law

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, July 27, 2010

While the new healthcare reform law calls for significant changes to the payment process for care delivered under Medicare, that information has not been effectively filtering down to the major beneficiaries of that care.

According to a survey released by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) on Monday, many seniors appeared to not know how the law would be impacting their healthcare.

For the survey conducted by Harris International two weeks ago, none of the 636 senior adults interviewed knew the correct answers for all 12 of the key reform-related questions selected by NCOA. "Very few Americans age 65 or older say they are even familiar with the law at call," said David Krane, Harris Interactive's vice president of public affairs and policy research, who spoke at a briefing in Washington.

The poll revealed that only 17% of seniors knew the correct answers to more than half the factual questions posed about key aspects of new law, and only 9% knew the correct answers to at least two?thirds of the questions. Krane said.

For instance, for the question on whether the healthcare reform law will cut Medicare payments to physicians, more than half of those polled—who said they were very familiar or somewhat familiar with the law—agreed incorrectly that the reform law will cut payments to physicians. For those who said the Medicare payment cuts would not be impacted by the reform law, 24% and 16% respectively said they were familiar with the law.

In regard to quality of care, a point consistently emphasized through the year-long healthcare debate in Congress—more than half incorrectly agreed with the question. Many believed the law did "not improve the quality of care" for Medicare beneficiaries with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

In addition, with the federal budget deficit looming over theĀ  policy debates, only 14% of seniors said they were aware that the new law is projected to reduce the deficit. Many (49%) believed incorrectly that it would increase the deficit over the next decade. (According to projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the law will reduce the deficit by an estimated $124 billion over 10 years).

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