March 1, 2017, Lithonia: Concerned local seniors Linda Davis (left) and Dolores White both ask a question during a town hall discussing how repealing the Affordable Care Act could effect seniors, including changes to Medicare, at the Lou Walker Senior Center. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Georgia seniors voice concerns over health law repeal

More than 100 seniors gathered at a community center in Lithonia on Wednesday to learn about ways the GOP’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act could affect their health care.

Most of the talk in Washington around gutting former President Barack Obama’s signature health law has focused on the future of its insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion. But the law has also offered certain benefits for people on Medicare, the government health program for Americans age 65 and older, such as free preventive screenings and helping to close the “doughnut hole” coverage gap in Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.

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President Donald Trump has said repeatedly he doesn’t plan to cut Medicare. Republicans, however, have proposed ideas that would drastically change the program, such as giving seniors vouchers to go out and buy private insurance.

For now, Republicans have yet to reach a consensus on an Obamacare repeal and replacement plan, despite talk in the early days post-election of having such legislation ready and waiting for Trump to sign on his first day in office. And it remains unclear how any such plan would impact Medicare.

But that hasn’t stopped Georgians who depend on Medicare from worrying.

Marcia Glenn Hunter, who attended Wednesday’s forum, said she sees seniors at the Lithonia center active and engaged in large part because of the health care they’ve been provided. She supports the ACA.

“We’ve worked all of our lives, and the final part of our lives should be just as enjoyable as the first part,” said Hunter, herself a senior and vice president of DeKalb for Seniors.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, she said, adding that Congress needs to have a replacement plan ready if they want to repeal the health law.

“The Affordable Care Act might not be perfect, but it’s all we have right now,” she said. “So fix what is broken if it’s broken. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

People have come to depend on Medicare to plan their futures, said Kathleen Connors, head of Georgia Refugee Health and Mental Health at the Well Refugee Center in Clarkston. Connors spoke at the event organized by the office of U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson, a Democrat.

“We cannot afford to lose something that we made our contributions for, that we made a social contract with Washington for,” Connors said to the crowd.

Some people responded with an “amen.”

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— Staff photographer Curtis Compton contributed to this report.

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