Our View: Faith coalition works to help make Medicare work

The future of Medicare is one of the hot issues in the presidential campaign. Benefits, sustainability in the face of rising demand and costs that climb with the rest of the nation's health care make for a thorny problem.

Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together (AFACT) will bring the issue down to the home front Monday when they hold a one-hour session entitled "Care About Medicare."

Members of this group that includes 15 churches have been doing their homework in what member Dahna Graham calls "a listening ministry." What they've heard in one-to-one sessions and a survey that brought in 300 responses are stories familiar to many seniors and their families in Alaska. More and more doctors refuse to see Medicare patients, arguing that they can't afford to serve them given Medicare's reimbursement rates. Alaska had its own acute Medicare crisis well before the current campaign.

That's left seniors scrambling for medical care. And that inspired some enterprising work by retired cardiologist Dr. George Rhyneer Sr. and Providence Alaska Medical Center to create Anchorage clinics specifically designed to care for Medicare and other older patients.

On Monday, the AFACT meeting will give a short presentation on what they've learned. And they'll hear from Rhyneer and Judith Bendersky of the Medicare Information Office in Alaska. Those guests fit their current Medicare focus on the problems of accessibility and information. Rhyneer will update people on how his clinic is working so far. Bendersky should shed light on how to get savvy about Medicare benefits.

And both will get the benefit of the listening ministry, as those who attend will have a chance to speak about any problems or concerns they have.

It's not a vent session. Speakers will get a minute; AFACT is proud of its reputation for knowing how to run a meeting that doesn't meander. But it is an open and civil forum.

The idea is to determine if the solutions to Medicare problems in Anchorage are working, and what people need to know about them. AFACT has learned enough already to know that Anchorage area seniors were delighted and relieved to see the new clinics come to life. For some, the options had become the Neighborhood Health Clinic or the emergency room.

AFACT member Mary Bristol said that while the national debate about Medicare tends to be politically and ideological charged, they want the political filters off and a focus on what works. That's because they come to the issue with the idea that we should be able to provide care for older Alaskans, that there's no debate about the right thing to do, just about the best way to do it. Rising costs are on their radar, but for starters an update on access to care and awareness.

Many Alaskans have paid into Medicare for decades. Their reward shouldn't be a closed door at the doctor's office when they turn 65.

AFACT's people of faith want to do what they can to keep the doors open, and provide directions to get there. That's good work.


BOTTOM LINE: "Care About Medicare" runs from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday at Lutheran Church of Hope, 1847 W. Northern Lights Blvd. More information is available from Dahna Graham at 333-9613.