Senior Boom: 11,000 New Seniors Become Eligible for Medicare - Every Day

By Melanie Arter | June 11, 2012 | 4:31pm EDT

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

( - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that 11,000 new seniors become eligible for Medicare every day.

“About 48 million Americans [are] relying on that program and 11,000 Baby Boomers a day become eligible for Medicare," Sebelius said.

"We have the biggest group ever in the history of this country coming in on a daily basis as the Baby Boomers age," she said at an event billed by the administration as a senior health care town hall on the Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

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Sebelius said Obamacare added new Medicare benefits, helping to fill "gaps" in Medicare coverage, thus "saving" money for the beneficiaries of those federal benefits.

Medicare spent a record $552 billion in fiscal 2011, according to the U.S. Treasury.

“Before the law was passed two years ago and signed into law, there were gaps in Medicare coverage that we’re working to fill," said Sebelius. "Now while the addition of the Part D Medicare benefit was hugely important for lots of seniors, it was I would say written with a design flaw, so that the seniors who took and relied most heavily on medications ran out of their insurance coverage at some point during the year and ran into the so-called donut hole."

“We know that up until this past year, about one in four seniors reported skipping doses, cutting pills in half, not filling prescriptions at all--which is in the long-run far more costly, to not only to a patient’s health but to the health care system itself, because they’re more likely to be hospitalized. They’re more likely to be vulnerable to acute situations, but that’s the only choice they had when you run out of money,” Sebelius said.

She said preventative screenings, like mammograms and colon cancer screenings were once out of reach to many seniors because of the co-pays and deductibles required. However, Obamacare has made recommended preventive services available without co-pays or deductibles. (Although not applicable to Medicare recipients, in January, Sebelius finalized a regulation, under the "preventive services" provision in Obamacare, mandating that all health-care plans provide, without fees or co-pay, sterilizations, artificial contraceptives and abortifacients to all women of "reproductive capacity.")

Sebelius said about 14.5 million beneficiaries have taken advantage of free medical tests and screenings. An annual wellness visit has also been included in the program.

Medicare premiums have fallen or remained lower than projected over the last two years, Sebelius said. Medicare Advantage plan premiums have fallen seven percent between 2011 to 2012, while enrollment has increased, which she credited to “historic waste and fraud efforts” and to Center for Medicare Management Acting Director Jon Blum and his team.

“So when you add savings in the law, we are projecting that the Medicare beneficiaries will save about $4,200 over the next nine years. And those seniors with high drug costs could save up to $16,000--again a big step forward,” Sebelius said.

According to the Treasury Department, the government spent a record $552 billion on Medicare in fiscal 2011, $524 billion in fiscal 2010, $491 billion in fiscal 2009, and $449 billion in fiscal 2008.

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