By JESSICA GRESKO, The Associated Press
11:56 a.m. September 23, 2009
Vice President Joe Biden, left, greets Betty-Printz Sims, 90, after speaking to seniors at Leisure World in Silver Spring, Md., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009. In his speech Biden tried to reassure seniors that health care reforms would not harm Medicare. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) - AP
SILVER SPRING, Md. — Vice President Joe Biden sought to reassure nervous seniors Wednesday that they won't see cuts in their Medicare benefits if the nation's health care system is revamped.
"Nobody is going to mess with your benefits. Nobody. All we do is make it better for people on Medicare," Biden told about 150 people at Leisure World in suburban Maryland.
President Barack Obama and the White House contend that Medicare benefits won't be affected even though legislation in Congress would cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans by more than $100 billion over 10 years.
On Tuesday, Congress' chief budget analyst, Douglas Elmendorf, contradicted the White House, saying seniors in Medicare's managed care plans could see reduced benefits under a bill in the Senate Finance Committee.
Biden acknowledged that polls show seniors are some of the most skeptical about overhauling health care, but he argued that seniors would benefit from the changes by closing the gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit known as the "doughnut hole."
He also said overhaul would cut overpayments to insurance companies for treating Medicare Advantage patients and bring down the cost.
The vice president spent a considerable amount of time relating personal stories and challenging claims about health care.
Biden described filling a pillbox for his 92-year-old mother and how she asked him about so-called "death panels." Critics of health care suggested this summer that end-of-life counseling in House legislation would lead to euthanasia for frail elderly patients. Independent experts who examined the bill language said those charges were baseless.
"'Joe, what about these death panels?'" Biden recalled his mother asking him.
"I said, 'Mom, I'm trying to kill you,'" Biden joked, to laughter. "I said 'Mom, it's hokum. It's a bunch of malarkey."
Residents asked whether wait times to see doctors would get longer as uninsured people got insurance and why so many people are upset over the so-called public option, a government-run insurance plan.
Bernie Siegel, 87, and his wife Irene, 80, said after the event they liked what they heard.
"People were giving us different conceptions – this and that," Bernie Siegel said of the health care proposals.
His wife said the vice president, "spoke very clearly."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Director of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle joined Biden.