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Medicare, social security top Owens agenda in visit with seniors

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AKWESASNE - Approximately 200 members of the Franklin County Association of Senior Citizens converged on the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino on Tuesday morning to hear from their congressnman, who largely spoke about two federal programs who uncertain fate weighed heavily on their minds: Medicare and Social Security.

“I am committed to preserving Medicare ... and preserving Social Security in its current form without negatively impacting benefits,” Rep. William Owens told the crowd.

While the federal sequester that kicked in on March 1 made automatic spending cuts across the board, there have been differing views on what will get axed and by how much, but the Democrat from Plattsburgh reassured the crowd that he is working to mitigate any potentially disastrous cuts. He said about 70 members of Congress have formed a sub-committee called the No Labels Group and are examining ways to “dramatically reduce Medicare spending without any impact on you.”

However, in response to Saranac Lake resident Fred Mader’s question about inter-party communication, Mr. Owens said the group’s mettle has yet to be tested.

“The real test is going to be whether we can get behind ... legislation ... and bring it to the floor,” he said.

He said surgeons general are currently of looking at the medical home model of health care, which focuses on preventative care coming from a primary physician. Mr. Owens noted that hospitalization and nursing home costs are “huge cost areas.” Residents from the eastern portion of the 23rd district, which is under the Adirondack Region Medical Home Pilot program, “reflect ... a decline in spending with better outcomes,” according to Mr. Owens.

He also told the room he is against the Medicare voucher program, which would give recipients a yearly lump sum to pay to private insurers rather than the program paying medical bills directly.

In response to Franklin County Legislator Gordon Crossman’s question about if taxes on the wealthy could support Medicare and Social Security in light of cuts, Mr. Owens replied that Congress should look changing the limit on taxing passive income, which means monies garnered from activities in which the recipient doesn’t directly partake. An example could be interest or dividend income from stocks and bonds.

Mr. Owens warned the audience to be wary of slanted views designed to instill fear that can run rampant on the Internet. During a question-and-answer session later in the meeting, Steve Lawrence of Malone asked why the Social Security Administration had started calling the program an entitlement, a moniker many conservative critics have started using following the campaign trail rhetoric of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

“I’m not aware of that,” Mr. Owens said. “It’s a fairly loose term that gets thrown around that I don’t agree with.”

Carolynn Gervais of Malone raised concerns that new Medicare legislation would deny cancer treatment to recipients over age 75.

“That ... is a completely false statement,” the Congressman said.

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