Rockefeller said that work has to be done to cut the cost of Medicare programs while assuring that equal health care is available for all older Americans.
"Powerful forces are working to see America become a two-tiered society where the needs of the well-to-do are met while the majority of working Americans are left to fend for themselves," Rockefeller said.
Under the Medicare reforms of the Balanced Budget Act signed this August, Medicare coverage of preventive benefits has improved.
That improves health care while at the same time it lowers the cost because problems can be caught before more expensive health care becomes necessary, he said.
A bill he sponsored that became part of the Balanced Budget Act calls for the formation of Provider Sponsored Organizations which will have doctors making decisions on health care without having to call the insurance company first. PSOs are now an option under Medicare, he said.
Another option under Medicare is Preferred Provider Organization, which can reduce the out-of-pocket expenses if the person agrees to see a doctor in the PPO.
The balanced budget act calls for the formation of a new Medicare Commission to work on the future of Medicare, Rockefeller said.
He sees the commission as similar to one that worked to assure Social Security will last for the next 75 years.
The Medicare commission is expected to return recommendations by March 1, 1999, he said.
"Those of us - senators and AARP - who are committed to Medicare have to wrestle with the need to keep its spending under control. If we don't make the tough choices they will be made by others who care more about numbers or getting their political way than about real people. We have to both ensure that the country can afford Medicare and that it's a program that does the best job for its beneficiaries," Rockefeller said.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Bob Perelman, president of the West Virginia chapter of the AARP of Rockefeller's speech.
Marcella McGinnis, 72, of the Charleston, W.Va., area, said she does not worry about Congress doing away with Medicare.
"We carry a lot of weight. We get out and vote," McGinnis said.