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WORRY OVER CUTS CLOUDS MEDICARE'S 30TH

Senior citizens statewide gathered in Sen. Orrin Hatch's office Monday to celebrate Medicare's 30th birthday, but mostly they wanted to express concerns about proposed cuts in the program.

Hatch made it clear he doesn't want anyone to suffer if Medicare sees some trimming, but he emphasized that Medicare is losing money fast and needs reform."A society that won't take care of its seniors is not a good society," he said. "But we have got to face the music - Medicare is going broke."

Hatch was referring to a report made earlier this year from Medicare Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund's board of trustees that Medicare will start running in the red for the first time next year and will go bankrupt as early as 2002.

But volunteers from the American Association of Retired Persons represented Utahns who want to guarantee their concerns are heard and that cuts don't happen too deep or too quick.

"We are not in denial of the situation and realize some adjustments have to be made," said Karl Swan, and AARP member. "But we are concerned with how the cuts will affect people in Utah.

"We've figured that out-of-pocket expenses will raise to over $3,400 over the next seven years with this program - we just don't want cuts made that are too far and too fast."

The Medicare program, created to provide the elderly with medical insurance, may see fewer funds in the future. Congress is alarmed over the escalating Medicare costs and will debate what must be done to curtail the increasing costs.

Hatch was responsive to the group's concerns but said everyone, including Utahns, will need to sacrifice a little. The most important thing, he said, is that everyone work together to find a solution.

"There are only a few ways you can do it," he said. "Extend the age, and who wants to do that, or reduce the benefits, and no politician wants to do that either."

Hatch hopes to rally support from both Democrats and Republicans in taking a risk for reform. Changes are necessary - even though they may result in a decrease in services or an increase in premiums - or the burden will be left with future generations, he said.

Individuals like John B. Cooper who depend on Medicare are still concerned that cuts are happening too quickly.

"Things are going too fast too soon," he said. "I'm in agreement with heading in that direction, but we need to make sure were not destroying people along the way."

Although Cooper could probably survive without funds from Medicare, he said hundreds of others would be devastated.