WASHINGTON — A coalition of senior citizens groups, joined by two influential congressmen, strongly attacked President Reagan's catastrophic health care program Monday as an umbrella with gaping holes and called for legislation to cover nursing home expenses for the elderly.
The Reagan plan "is essentially hollow," Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) said. "With its limited gesture of assistance, the Administration has come upon a car wreck and only changed the tire."
Currently, Medicare beneficiaries pay $520 for the first day of a hospital stay, receive the next 59 days free, then pay $130 a day. The Reagan plan would provide unlimited days of hospital care and a $2,000 ceiling on personal spending for doctor and hospital bills.
Added Services Urged
But Waxman, chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on health care, said that the plan should be expanded to include prescription drugs and nursing home care.
Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), joining Waxman on a podium beneath a giant orange umbrella ripped with large holes, said: "Any serious catastrophic health care proposal should cover not only long stays in a hospital but long stays in the home or the nursing home as well."
"It should cover illnesses like cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, heart disease and the like, that do not require hospitalization and which are largely unprotected by insurance--either private or public," said Pepper, chairman of the House Aging subcommittee on health.
Also at the news conference were leaders of an assortment of groups calling for a broader health program, including the American Assn. of Retired Persons, the National Council of Senior Citizens, the Gray Panthers, the Older Women's League and the National Center and Caucus on the Black Aged.
"Let's not tiptoe around the issue--the time to act is now," said Cyril Brickfield, executive director of the 25-million-member AARP. "Congress must work to improve and expand" the Administration proposal, said William R. Hutton, executive director of the 4-million-member National Council of Senior Citizens.
$50-Billion Cost Seen
It would cost an estimated $50 billion a year to add expanded home health care and nursing home coverage to Medicare, said Richard Teske, deputy assistant secretary of health and human services.
"Our proposal is a limited proposal that adds a catastrophic benefit to the present Medicare package," Teske said in an interview. "Our proposal means no new taxes and no new bureaucracy."
Pepper has proposed a far-reaching plan, financed by payroll taxes and an $800 annual premium, to expand Medicare to include nursing home stays, drugs, eye and dental care and routine checkups. Under the President's program, the nation's 30 million Medicare beneficiaries would each pay an additional $4.92 a month to finance the program.
Most members of Congress fear any plan that would involve higher taxes or an increase in the already-massive federal budget deficit. The Democratic committee leaders may devise a slightly different financing plan but are reluctant to expand the benefit substantially beyond the level proposed by the Administration.
Reps. Pete Stark (D-Oakland) and Bill Gradison (R-Ohio), respectively the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the Ways and Means subcommittee on health, have offered a plan to limit personal spending to $1,500 for doctor and hospital bills, compared with the $2,000 in the President's plan.