- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2014

A top health-insurance industry group said Thursday that cuts to Medicare Advantage, called for in Obamacare and announced late last week, will boost the average beneficiary’s bill by hundreds of dollars a year.

The report from America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) delivers more ammunition to Republicans, who want to see the health law repealed, by saying that seniors who take part in Medicare Advantage, an insurer-run alternative to government-run fee-for-service Medicare, will pay between $420 and $900 more a year for their plans.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “should keep Medicare Advantage payment rates flat next year to protect seniors from another round of harmful cuts that would put at risk the high-quality coverage they like and rely on today,” AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said.

The Obama administration announced the cuts last Friday. They are part of the broader cuts to Medicare that were included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, with the money being used to support other parts of Obamacare.

AHIP said if finalized, the cuts would trim payment rates to Medicare Advantage plans by nearly 6 percent in 2015. Combined with last year’s cuts, the agency will have slashed the program by double digits, it said.

“This isn’t right and has to be stopped,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said this week that payments to Medicare Advantage needed to be reined in, despite what lobbyists say.

“We’re just making sure that it’s not wasteful,” she said.

She was among five Democrats who gathered at the Capitol to tout the health-care law, arguing its benefits far outweigh negative stories put forth by Obamacare’s “haters,” moments after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, accused conservative-backed ads of inventing tales of health care woe.

But Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said Thursday on the Senate floor that “I think too many people have true stories to tell” about cancellations and rising premiums for Mr. Reid to be so dismissive.

GOP candidates plan to use the cuts as ammunition for political attacks on Obamacare in this year’s elections, and some vulnerable Democrats have come out in opposition to what the administration is trying to do.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat who said 43 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in her district use Medicare Advantage, sent a letter this week to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to cancel the cuts.

“Instead of cutting funding for these popular plans, we should work together to find reasonable solutions that drive down cost, increase choice, address waste, fraud and abuse, spur innovation, and ultimately improve the quality of care provided to our seniors,” she said.

The administration argues it is trying to keep the program on a sure footing by preventing overpayments, and that premiums for Medicare Advantage enrollees have fallen since Congress passed the health care law in 2010.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have argued that Republican fears are overblown and note that Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, kept Obamacare-related changes to Medicare in his budget plan last year.



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