HHS Touts Growth in Medicare Advantage Plans, Drop
in Premiums Ahead of Hearing
GOP working on case that Obamacare cut MA plans,
causing seniors to leave program; House Ways and Means Health
Subcommittee hearing Friday
Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health News
20, 2012 - Just days away from a House hearing where Republicans are
likely to charge that the 2010 health law’s cuts to Medicare Advantage
plans will cause insurers to leave the program and seniors to pay more
for coverage, the Obama administration said Wednesday that as a result
of the law seniors now have more of these private plans to choose from
and that coverage is less expensive.
Next year, the number of plan choices will increase
by 7 percent. In addition, since the law was enacted in March 2010,
premiums have dropped by 10 percent, while enrollment in the program has
increased 28 percent, according to the
Department of Health
and Human Services. The average monthly Medicare Advantage
premium in 2013 is projected to rise $1.47 to $32.59.
The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will
discuss the Medicare Advantage program during a Friday morning hearing.
subcommittee chairman Wally Herger, R-Calif., said the health law’s cuts
to Medicare Advantage “will significantly alter the program and
jeopardize seniors’ access to the health plans they rely on.”
More than 13 million Medicare beneficiaries – just
over a quarter of all Medicare enrollees – are in Medicare Advantage
plans, an alternative to traditional Medicare offered by insurance
companies. The health law will reduce payments to Medicare Advantage
plans by $156 billion from 2013 through 2022, according to the
President Barack Obama and many Democrats have
backed payment cuts to the plans, citing data that the government has in
the past paid about
14 percent more
per beneficiary in Medicare Advantage than per beneficiary enrolled in
the traditional program. Proponents of the private plans point to their
better coordination of care and extra benefits and services they
provide, including vision, hearing and dental benefits.
“We remain concerned that the benefits and coverage
Medicare Advantage beneficiaries rely on today could be put at risk”
between the law’s cuts and a new premium tax on health plans that begins
in 2014, Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of
America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement. “Given the size
and scope of these cuts, Medicare beneficiaries are likely to face
higher costs and coverage disruptions in the coming years.”
The CBO and the
Medicare actuary have
predicted that as those cuts kick in, fewer seniors will
enroll in Medicare Advantage and the level of benefits they offer will
be reduced. Jon Blum, acting principal deputy administrator at CMS, said
such predictions for the program have proven to be false so far and will
continue to be. CMS is overseeing the program “in a much stronger way,”
he said, that includes tougher negotiations to create a more competitive
environment between plans and a greater focus on quality.
“We are operating this program much differently
than in the past,” he told reporters Wednesday.
Additional payments to Medicare Advantage plans may
also be contributing to their willingness to stay in the program. The
Accountability Office and the
Advisory Commission (MedPAC), among others, have questioned
whether the $8 billion in
Medicare has awarded to health plans as part of the health law has
softened the blow of the impending cuts. Expect to hear more about that
at Friday’s hearing.
released September 19th, 2012, 4:11 PM
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