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Terrorism a concern for area seniors

South King County’s congressman entered a room full of senior citizens Tuesday planning to talk mostly about Medicare. America’s war against terrorism was on their minds, however.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-9th District) visited Wesley Homes Retirement Community in Des Moines as part of his self-titled “Medicare day.” It was his final stop, following a roundtable discussion with doctors and hospital administrators at Valley Medical Center in Renton and a press conference in Seattle with Sen. Patty Murray other members of Washington’s congressional delegation.

The topic was Medicare reform, including reimbursement rates, proposed prescription drug benefits, and seniors’ access to medical care –– all of interest to the Wesley Homes audience of about 100. Some of them asked Smith about the healthcare issues, but more were interested in the progress of the war on terrorism since the attacks on the United States last September.

“And I thought healthcare was going to be a difficult topic,” Smith quipped as he fielded one terrorism-related question after another.

He said the al-Qaida terrorists blamed for destroying the World Trade Center towers in New York City and damaging the Pentagon by using hijacked airliners as guided missiles must be stopped, and the sooner the better.

“These are people who want to destroy our country,” he said, adding, “I hate to be stark about it, but it’s their objective to set off a nuclear bomb in the United States. I really don’t want to sit and wait for that.”

Smith agreed with a woman’s comment that, in the interest of proper priority, America’s spending on military defense should be compared to shortfalls in medical attention for the country’s population. But, he noted, “I’m willing to spend a certain amount of money to help keep people in this world from attacking our nation.”

Back on the Medicare debate, Smith said Congress is working on universal access to healthcare, so that costs of receiving medical attention are spread more evenly among consumers.

He also said he could support tort reform in response to a Wesley Homes resident’s complaint about the impact of malpractice lawsuits on medical costs. A bigger problem, though, is inadequate reimbursements to Medicare and Medicaid, Smith contended.

He said Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress “were being a little untruthful” when they said they could keep healthcare affordable and accessible. “The difficulty is in actually doing something.”

Washington ranks 42nd among the 50 states in annual Medicare spending per capita. Smith is co-sponsoring a proposal in the U.S. House that would prohibit the federal government from paying less than the national average of $5,499 in any state. Washington receives $3.921 per beneficiary.

Some doctors in Washington reportedly are reluctant to treat Medicare patients because of the relatively small payments.

In testimony earlier this month before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Beatrice Braun, a member of the national Americal Association of Retired Persons board, said an outpatient prescription drug benefit should be part of an attempt to update Medicare.

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