Outraged NY Seniors, Elected Officials Protest Closure of Only Walk-In Medicare Help Center in NYC

Nov 1, 2006
Press Release

NEW YORK, NY – Today, NY Seniors, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, NY Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, Assemblywoman Sylvia Friedman, Councilman Dan Garodnick, Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, and experts from the Medicare Rights Center gathered in Midtown to protest the closure of the only walk-in Medicare help center in the New York metropolitan area.  The Center provided a vital service for senior citizens and disabled individuals who are experiencing problems with Medicare or are facing confusing choices about the Medicare prescription drug program.

The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) eliminated funding for the walk-in center, forcing it to close.  Seniors have instead been encouraged to use the Internet or a 1-800 number to resolve their Medicare-related problems.

The elected officials sent two letters today to CMS Administrator Leslie Norwalk, one from Rep. Maloney, Senator Hillary Clinton and other members of New York’s Congressional delegation, and another from Maloney, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Manhattan and Queens Borough Presidents and other local elected officials.  The 35 elected officials stated that the closing of the walk-in center “will seriously undermine the quality of service provided by Empire Medicare.”  The electeds also urged CMS to reconsider its decision and re-open the center as quickly as possible.

Copies of the letters to CMS Administrator Norwalk can be found at: https://maloney.house.gov/documents/seniors/20061101MedicareWalkInsLocal.pdf and
https://maloney.house.gov/documents/seniors/20061030MedicareWalkIns.pdf .

“This center used to help thousands of New Yorkers every year, now its doors are locked and its blinds are shut,” said Congresswoman Maloney.  “The Internet is no substitute for face-to-face answers from a Medicare expert.  New York seniors are already confused about the dozens of Medicare plans available to them.  If the walk-in Center remains closed, I fear that seniors won’t be able to get the answers they need about one of the most important issues in their lives.”

“Confusion around the Medicare prescription drug benefit is one of the top concerns I hear as I talk with New York’s seniors,”said Senator Clinton.  “This Medicare walk-in center was a critical access point to the roughly 40 percent of New York’s seniors that live in New York City and are trying to get these and other questions about their Medicare services answered.  With all the problems that have plagued the 1-800-Medicare number and Medicare’s prescription drug website, this is no time to add to the confusion by closing a reliable and trusted option that has worked.”

“The closing of the CMS office by the federal government is a brutal example of its lack of sensitivity to the needs of our seniors as they try and muddle through the complicated changes in Medicare coverage,” said Senator Krueger.

“As a member of the Assembly Health Committee and as the representative of an Assembly District with one of the highest elderly populations in the State, I have seen the devastating impact that the Medicare Part D prescription drug program has had on East Side seniors,” said Assemblyman Bing.  “Closing the Walk-In Center will make it even harder for many of my constituents to navigate this complicated federal program.”

Assemblywoman Friedman said, “the closing of the Walk-in Medicare Center is another example of the Bush administration's disregard for ordinary people.  The confusion created by the convoluted Medicare Part D program will only be exacerbated when seniors have no one to talk with about their options.  Some seniors have rotary phones.  Some seniors do not have computers.  How can they be expected to make choices when they are unaware of the possibilities?  The Walk-in center must remain open.”

"For years, this Medicare Help Center has provided valuable service to many of my constituents and thousands of New Yorkers across the five boroughs,” said Councilman Garodnick.  “To replace the Center's hard-working, knowledgeable staff with a 1-800 number or a website is insufficient.  The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services should reconsider its decision and re-open these doors."

"At a time when confusion reigns in the Medicare program, this administration should be expanding not limiting senior citizens' access to Medicare services," said Councilwoman Lappin.

"During an era when the Bush Administration persists in making Medicare benefits more difficult to access, more not less consumer counseling is necessary," said Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a New York City-based, national consumer service organization.

The signatories of the two letters included Maloney and Clinton; Congressmen Anthony Weiner, Joseph Crowley, Jerrold Nadler, Jose Serrano, and Michael McNulty; NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; City Comptroller William Thompson; Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; Queens Borough President Helen Marshall; NY State Senators Liz Krueger, Martin Connor, Tom Duane, Jose Serrano and George Onorato; Assemblymembers Adam Clayton Powell IV, Jonathan Bing, Sylvia Friedman, Michael N. Gianaris, Deborah Glick, Dick Gottfried, Pete Grannis, Margaret Markey and Cathy Nolan; and City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick, Alan Gerson, Eric Gioia, Jessica Lappin, Rosie Mendez, Peter Vallone Jr and Melissa Mark Viverito. 

The help center served 5,000 to 7,000 people every year from all five boroughs.  Since 40% of New York State's seniors live in New York City, the elected officials stressed the importance of having a center in NYC that seniors can visit and have their questions answered.