Gulleson talks Medicare with Fargo-area seniors

Fargo resident Diane Hill, right, describes how Medicare coverage has affected her and her family during a roundtable discussion with Democratic U.S. House candidate Pam Gulleson, left, on Tuesday, May, 8, 2012, in Fargo, N.D. Kristen M. Daum / The Forum.

FARGO – Democratic U.S. House candidate Pam Gulleson said Medicare works well, but improvements are needed to ensure the program stays beneficial for future generations.

“This is going to be the topic of the next decade, and we need to talk about it and take a hard look at the changes that need to be made to preserve Medicare,” Gulleson said Tuesday while meeting with about 30 Fargo-area senior citizens.

During the hour-long discussion, residents shared their experiences with Medicare and how health care issues impact their life decisions.

Some offered suggestions about how Medicare could be improved to save money and reduce wasteful spending, problems which ultimately impact premiums and the financial solvency of the program.

Many seniors also spoke of the peace of mind that Medicare coverage offers elderly individuals and their family members.

Fargo resident Mary Parker retired early and was without health insurance for six months before her Medicare coverage began at age 65.

“I never realized how scary it was to be without something,” Parker said, adding that she didn’t go to the doctor at times she probably should have because she didn’t have insurance.

Gulleson said it’s those kinds of decisions that she fears would increase under Republican proposals to change Medicare coverage.

“You see this with families without insurance, too: they tend to put off care,” Gulleson said. “The earliest, most cost-effective form of care is early diagnosis.”

Tuesday’s Medicare discussion – which drew predominantly Democratic participants – also touched on the 2010 health care reform act and how it could impact coverage.

Several residents praised the health care law for granting coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Fargo resident Phyllis Osmundson said without that provision, her ailing daughter-in-law could’ve died from no insurance and an inability to afford care.

“Whatever we have to do, we need to preserve some of these things out of the Obama plan,” Osmundson said. “I just hope that with Congress, they’re able to take a look and if things aren’t working well, adjust them. Don’t just start all over.”

In response, Gulleson pointed to the history of the Medicare program, where “continuous changes and improvements” have been made as needed.

“None of these are perfect. You should be addressing these concerns as they occur and you need to make adjustments,” Gulleson said.

Gulleson also held Medicare discussions this week in Grand Forks, Bismarck and Minot.

“My priority is to be able to sustain it, to strengthen it and keep it longterm,” Gulleson said. “I think it’s critically important in the lives of our seniors. I’ve seen over and over again how it adds to, not only the quality of life, but the peace of mind.”

Republican-endorsed candidate Brian Kalk and Republican challenger Kevin Cramer are also seeking North Dakota’s U.S. House seat this year.

Whoever wins the June primary contest will compete against Gulleson in November.