Rockefeller: Keep pushing for Medicare expansion into long-term care

Former U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV, 1985-2015) told Medicare advocates on Thursday that they should keep trying to expand Medicare to include long-term care and other needed benefits.

His remarks came in an introduction of his former chief of staff Tamera Luzzato, who gave the Center for Medicare Advocacy's lecture in Rockefeller's name at the National Voices of Medicare Summit at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Luzzato is now senior vice president of government relations at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Rockefeller urged “to go for change where you can get it” and shared examples of incremental changes he had worked for while in the Senate. In particular, he noted the years it took working across the aisle to create the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). “Pick three or four things that need to be done,” he advised and emphasized the need to work with others to achieve legislative success.

Luzzato, meanwhile, called on advocates to use “weapons of mass construction” to hold policymakers responsible for needed changes or new benefits. Several speakers at the summit called for adding dental, audiology or long-term care benefits to Medicare. Luzzato blamed the root of the federal policy impasse on Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, an organization that opposes all tax increases. It is time to “crumble it” she said of Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge.

Other speakers such as Judy Feder, an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute and panelist on the 2013 National Commission on Long-Term Care, called for fixing various parts of Medicare such as the lack of an out-of-pocket cap and too much cost sharing that currently make healthcare more cost prohibitive for many seniors, especially those with low incomes. She and others also criticized the current trend by policymakers to shift costs onto beneficiaries rather than providers.

About 150 Medicare advocates, think-tank staff, disease-related and provider groups, government officials, media, and attorneys attended the summit.

Scott L. Parkin is a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer who retired from Justice in Aging in 2014.