Health care law step forward — AARP president

As President Barack Obama accepted blame for the troubled start of the Affordable Care Act, AARP’s national president said Thursday in appearances on Maui that he still supports Obamacare and that the program will produce “serious improvements” to health care.

Robert Romasco said that the ACA, which aims to provide health insurance to the vast majority of Americans, will have a “positive” effect on those with health insurance and those on Medicare. Obamacare will pay for colonoscopies and mammograms and will extend the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight years.

The act “is designed to take a big step forward” and will make “serious improvements” to health care, he said. Romasco noted that the ACA ensures that people will not lose their coverage if they get sick and cannot be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition beginning in January.

Despite the high cost of health care in the U.S., the World Health Organization says that the U.S. is ranked 37 out of 190 countries in the quality of care and has 30 million people without insurance.

As Romasco made his rounds, the president in a news conference at the White House on Thursday admitted that he “fumbled” the debut of the act.

Obama announced changes that included allowing insurers to extend for a year policies that have been canceled, even if the plans do not comply with the law. The changes came in response to a promise Obama had made that Americans would be able to keep their current health plans if they wanted; insurers had been canceling plans that had not met minimum standards.

Romasco, who visited Oahu earlier this week and was on Maui on Thursday, spoke at the 12th annual Family Caregivers Conference in Kihei, organized by the Maui County Office on Aging. Around 200 people attended the conference at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.

Caregivers shared their stories with him at the conference. A 23-year-old woman said that her grandmother, who suffers from dementia, was driving her crazy; another woman said that she was trying to take care of her father on the Mainland remotely.

About the woman and her grandmother, Romasco said that he had “no magic bullet.” All he could offer was perspective: “If the situation were reversed, she will care for you,” he said.

Preparation could help. He said that children and their families should have conversations about caring for loved ones when they age or get sick.

Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii state director, said that a “conversation has to start, it has to start earlier.” She noted how parents of newborns think ahead about their child going to college. She said the same should be the case for families and caring for their elders.

On Maui, costs are high for long-term care, she said. A long-term care bed shared in a room with three others could cost as much as $168,000 per year.

People have gone bankrupt trying to care for their elderly family members; other older residents have found themselves with nowhere to turn for long-term care because they waited too long, AARP officials said.

A cheaper alternative might be in-home care. People can prepare by upgrading fixtures in homes and evaluating options for support.

AARP can offer some tips and guidance as well through its caregivers website

Other points Romasco discussed with The Maui News:

* Social Security will be fully funded for the next 20 years. If no changes are made, Social Security recipients’ checks will be trimmed 25 percent after the 20 years. Romasco pledged to fight for full benefits and for making sure Social Security remains around.

* The Medicare trust fund can be helped by allowing the program to negotiate drug prices with companies and by approving legislation that would eliminate “pay for delay” where brand name drugs pay to keep cheaper generic drugs off the market. Other possible solutions to keep costs down include tort reform and decreasing redundant medical tests. These measures will not add costs to patients, Romasco said.

To learn more about what AARP is doing on Social Security and Medicare issues, go to

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at