- - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In town halls over the past several weeks and months throughout my congressional district, Kentucky’s Second, one thing I have heard from constituents at every event is the need to protect Medicare. I couldn’t agree more. As 10,000 new seniors become eligible for Medicare services every day, we must protect the program’s viability for generations to come. One way to achieve this is to strengthen the Medicare Advantage program.

Medicare Advantage is grounded in the principle that not everyone who uses Medicare services is going to have the same health care needs. When seniors opt for Medicare Advantage, they are able to receive their Medicare benefits through a private insurer that contracts directly with Medicare. Many seniors still choose to use traditional Medicare plans, but for almost 19 million seniors and individuals with disabilities, Medicare Advantage provides the flexibility to choose a health insurance plan that works for them.

Medicare Advantage plans may also offer services that are not provided by traditional Medicare, such as vision and dental coverage. These plans can include care coordination, disease management programs, out-of-pocket spending limits and access to community-based programs. Medicare Advantage allows for health care plans to be tailored to the individual patient, ultimately helping American seniors receive the care they need.

Imagine a senior who recently became eligible for Medicare and is thinking about retiring from her company, where she was receiving employer-sponsored health benefits. Say she recently had surgery and wants to continue seeing the same doctor. This senior should not have to forfeit care because she is retiring. A Medicare Advantage plan might be able to offer a smoother transition into retirement and provide more services than traditional Medicare. She would still be enrolled in Medicare but with additional options that may allow her to see a greater number of providers. Another example might be a person with disabilities who needs a very specific, personalized treatment. Medicare Advantage could give her the opportunity to continue that treatment into retirement, whereas traditional Medicare plans might not cover that particular service.

Giving seniors more flexibility in how they use Medicare benefits through Medicare Advantage programs not only provides seniors with the opportunity to receive their preferred care — it also saves money and helps preserve Medicare services for future generations. Medicare Advantage plans streamline tailored Medicare services for users, so the government does not end up paying for unnecessary services that a patient might not want. The Medicare Advantage plans put seniors in control of determining the health care services and providers that they want.

As vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, I have proudly supported all Medicare plans. Earlier this year, I worked with Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to send a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to urge support for the Medicare Advantage program. Our letter was signed by a whopping 298 members of the House of Representatives. Members from both parties across the country recognize the value of Medicare Advantage plans.

I was also pleased to work with my colleagues to secure a permanent extension of the authority for Special Needs Plans in Medicare Advantage — these are specialized plans serving some of our most vulnerable seniors, including many who are enrolled in Medicaid.

As more and more people begin using Medicare services, we must ensure that they can get the full range of care that they need. To do this, we must protect the Medicare Advantage program. I will continue to work with my colleagues to strengthen this important program.

Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie represents Kentucky’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health.

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