Biden Reassures Seniors On Health Overhaul Polls show those most skeptical about plans for a health care overhaul are the nation's senior citizens. Nearly all of them already have coverage in the form of the government-run Medicare program. And they worry about losing benefits. In an effort to allay some of those concerns, the Obama administration on Wednesday unleashed a new weapon from its arsenal: Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden Reassures Seniors On Health Overhaul

Biden Reassures Seniors On Health Overhaul

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Polls show those most skeptical about plans for a health care overhaul are the nation's senior citizens. Nearly all of them already have coverage in the form of the government-run Medicare program. And they worry about losing benefits. In an effort to allay some of those concerns, the Obama administration on Wednesday unleashed a new weapon from its arsenal: Vice President Joe Biden.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Dealing with the flu this winter looks to be more complicated than usual, and we have two reports this morning. But first, we'll hear about some of the concerns that the nation's seniors have when it comes to revamping existing health care. Nearly all of them have coverage under the government-run Medicare program, and they worry about losing benefits. In an effort to address those fears, the Obama administration put Vice President Joe Biden on the case. NPR's Julie Rovner has the report.

JULIE ROVNER: Biden traveled to Leisure World, a retirement community just outside Washington, D.C., and immediately charmed the audience of about 150 seniors. First, he offered to find an errant cell phone ringing at the bottom of someone's purse.

JOE BIDEN: And I'll answer your phone. I can't find mine, either.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: I don't know where the hell mine is. Let me tell you.

ROVNER: Then, while Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius addressed the audience, Biden simply plunked himself down in the mostly female crowd, prompting this from the HHS secretary.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Mr. Vice President, you look right at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEBELIUS: Surrounded by beautiful women.

ROVNER: Of course, Biden's used to fielding questions from the senior crowd, including his 92-year-old mother. In fact, he said, the last time he was home in Delaware...

BIDEN: I walk in, give her a kiss. She said, Joey, what about these death panels?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: And I said, mom, I'm trying to kill you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: She said, I'm serious, Joey. What about these death panels? I said, mom, it's hokum. It's a bunch of malarkey. And then I explained it to her.

ROVNER: But joking aside, Biden was clearly there to speak to a much larger audience and to deliver a larger message, first, that Democrats rather than Republicans can be trusted to protect Medicare.

BIDEN: Just step back and ask yourself: What do you think? You know nothing else about the subject. You just know the guys who were against it the last 20 years are now telling you the guys who were fighting for it for the last 30 years are trying to get rid of it. Come on, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: Come on.

ROVNER: Back on Capitol Hill, however, Republicans like Jon Kyl of Arizona painted a whole different picture of what the bill now before the Senate Finance Committee would do to Medicare.

JON KYL: What senior wouldn't be concerned that cutting over $210 billion by cutting payments to hospitals and nursing homes and home health and hospice might not adversely affect their care?

ROVNER: Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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