Everyone has a different opinion on Medicare at forum

Sherry West of Clearwater talks about how she wishes the United States could have a health care system citizens could be proud of during a Medicare forum co-sponsored by AARP and the Tampa Bay Times at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Holding the microphone is Michelle Cyr, associate state director for advocacy for AARP. CHRIS ZUPPA   |   Times
Sherry West of Clearwater talks about how she wishes the United States could have a health care system citizens could be proud of during a Medicare forum co-sponsored by AARP and the Tampa Bay Times at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Holding the microphone is Michelle Cyr, associate state director for advocacy for AARP.CHRIS ZUPPA | Times
Published October 12 2012
Updated October 12 2012

There is only one thing everyone agrees on about Medicare: The other guy is wrong.

And it's not just the Democrats and Republicans who feel that way.

The 50 people at a forum Thursday night on the topic listened politely as AARP state director Jeff Johnson led a discussion. But at every break in the action, hands shot in the air for a turn to talk.

The event was hosted by the Tampa Bay Times and AARP at the Poynter Institute, which owns the Times.

Johnson, moderating one in a series of AARP's national You've Earned a Say initiative, put five proposals — one at a time — on a screen in front of the audience, which had been given voting clickers on the way in.

Differing opinions could be heard even before the voting started on facts laid out by Johnson and his co-moderator, PolitiFact Florida editor Angie Holan, who was there to tell the group about the Times' fact-checking website.

Johnson told the group AARP, which is nonpartisan, decided to hold these forums so everyone's voice could be heard in Washington, D.C., as the clock ticks down to 2024 when the trust fund that pays for Medicare is depleted.

According to recent polling, 59 percent of Florida boomers say they will have to rely on Social Security and Medicare even more in retirement because of the recent economic downturn. But almost 50 percent feel that their voices will not make a difference in Washington, D.C.

Several audience members, three-quarters of whom receive Medicare, didn't believe the trust fund would be depleted — or, if it was, it wouldn't matter.

"We need a hospital that will deal with us at a reduced rate," Jim Kegler, 63, of Largo said. "If the rate's so low, the hospital can't afford it, the population will deal with it."

In one of the rare instances of agreement, a woman who identified herself as a registered nurse put the blame on doctors, saying no one was monitoring them.

Another registered nurse, Sherry West, 65, of Clearwater added: "We don't have health care; we have disease care. We need real health care reform."

Susan Coffey, 56, of St. Petersburg said the qualifying age shouldn't be raised because people won't be able to get insurance in the gap.

"Health care is a right, not a privilege," she said. "No insurance company wants you after 50."

AARP will collect participants' responses and share them with members of Congress and candidates for president. To take part and to learn more, go to earnedasay.org.

If you are interested in seeing what else the local audience had to say, Bay News 9 plans to air the discussion at noon Friday on Bay News 9 On Demand, Channel 342 on Bright House Networks digital cable.

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