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Flushing seniors talk healthcare on Biden conference call

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While President Barack Obama was in Manhattan last week for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Queens seniors via teleconference.

Biden joined with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius last Thursday to explain the Obama administration’s health care overhaul on a day when many of its provisions went into effect.

The call, which went out to seniors throughout the nation, was listened in on by 21 clients at the Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center at 45-25 Kissena Blvd.

“The bill that was just passed strengthens Medicare .... Estimates show that the bill reduces costs,” Biden told the men and women who gathered to hear him speak. “President Obama and I will fight to ensure there are no Medicare cuts and to increase services.”

Betsy Smith, managing director of Self Help community services at several locations, said all seniors were invited to attend the event, and two homebound seniors even participated via teleconference through the new “virtual senior center” program.

“I think the seniors became very informed about their Medicare coverage and the benefits are in place now,” she said. They also learned about all the free preventative methods that are now available through Medicare.

Flushing residents Harvey and Elena Wolfe take computer classes at the center. They agreed with Smith’s assessment, saying they learned a lot from the speech Biden gave, and also from the question-and-answer session, although they did not ask any questions themselves.

“I enjoyed it, I really did. I thought it was really informative. He didn’t make it complicated and he put it in a format that was very cohesive,” Elena Wolfe said. “It was also very personal. He talked about his mother and his brother — I didn’t know he had a brother. [The Obama administration] should get credit, they’re doing a really big thing here.”

The health-care overhaul will address several needs of some of the seniors in attendance. The one most cited was the filling of the “donut hole” — a gap in coverage of prescription drugs under Medicare that costs some seniors thousands of dollars a year. The funding gap will gradually become fully funded in the next couple of years as a result of the health-care reform bill.

Flushing resident and senior center user Lee Hsih said the information about the donut hole was of interest to her.

“Biden gave me some understanding about Medicare reform and especially the donut hole. I didn’t even know that terminology,” she said. “I didn’t get the chance to speak to him, but by listening I know a little more about the reform. It was very informative.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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