Posts filed under ‘Public Option’
From the New York Times, January 8, 2014
“…This past year, I have achieved something big that I’ve not spoken of until now. Countless hours of physical therapy — and the talents of the medical community — have brought me new movement in my right arm. It’s fractional progress, and it took a long time, but my arm moves when I tell it to. Three years ago, I did not imagine my arm would move again. For so many days, it did not. I did exercise after exercise, day after day, until it did. I’m committed to my rehab and I’m committed to my country, and my resolution, standing with the vast majority of Americans who know we can and must be safer, is to cede no ground to those who would convince us the path is too steep, or we too weak. “
How can we not stay the course? We will continue to advocate for those who need a voice – for the long term.
Misconceptions and misinformation about the Affordable Care Act are still too many to innumerate. However, as advocates for Medicare beneficiaries and a strong Medicare program, we can tell you that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is good for beneficiaries and good for the stability of a full and fair Medicare program. ACA has already added significantly to Medicare-covered preventive services – with no beneficiary cost-sharing, continues to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for people under Medicare Part D, is phasing out wasteful overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans and added over a decade to Medicare’s long-term solvency.
Happy Anniversary, ACA. As my grandmother would say, “You should live and be well!”
I read David Brooks’ New York Times editorial yesterday with dismay. It seems Medicare is not only to blame for the federal deficit, but also for Sen. Hagel’s nomination and the end of America’s military might. I have been representing Medicare beneficiaries and studying Medicare since 1977. Even I was surprised by these positions.
The determination to slash Medicare seems never ending. One hardly knows where to begin responding. But we need to try, before it’s too late. Before the next deficit cutting activities get underway, we need to set the record straight.
The basic, public Medicare program was a cost-effective success. Medicare brought access to health care to older people who were refused private health insurance. It dramatically decreased poverty among older people. Unnecessary payments to private Medicare plans, unrestricted payments for prescription drugs and policies aimed at privatizing Medicare increased the program’s costs exponentially. These expensive provisions should be the targets for those whose true goal is to reduce the deficit. If the will exists, there is a way to reduce costs while preserving Medicare’s promise.
Watch this short video from the Kaiser Family Foundation: http://www.kff.org/medicare/medicare-timeline2.cfm. It will remind you why Medicare matters.
Lawmakers continue to talk about the future of Medicare as they address the federal deficit, and many of the proposals that have emerged would have horrible repercussions for Medicare beneficiaries and their families. Just last week, Connecticut’s Senator Joe Lieberman suggested raising the eligibility age for Medicare; an unsound idea that would hurt the actuarial balance of the Medicare risk pool. Raising the eligibility age would increase the proportion of older, sicker people in Medicare, while younger, healthier people – and their largely unused premiums – would be excluded. That’s the exact wrong direction, and we at the Center had to respond.
Follow the links below to see our letters in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
As lawmakers debate the future of Medicare as part of broader efforts to address the federal deficit, proposals have emerged from Congress that would have severe repercussions for beneficiaries and their families. Sound and measured solutions that would protect Medicare coverage while reducing costs to taxpayers have not been seriously addressed. The six solutions we propose would accomplish both of these goals.
These solutions, unlike current proposals, do not shift costs to beneficiaries or completely restructure theMedicare program. They promote choice and competition while shoring up the solvency ofMedicare. Adopting these solutions would be a responsible step in reducing our deficit the right way.
1. Negotiate Drug Prices with Pharmaceutical Companies
The Medicare prescription drug law passed in 2003 prohibits the Secretary of Health and Human Services from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies. These companies gained 44 million customers when Medicare began covering prescription drugs, but they did not have to adjust their prices in return. Requiring the Secretary to negotiate drug prices for Medicare would save taxpayers billions of dollars – potentially over $200 billion over ten years. Taxpayers currently pay nearly 70% more for drugs in the Medicare program than through the Veteran’s Administration, which has direct negotiating power. Savings realized from reducingMedicare drug cuts could be used to improve benefits for beneficiaries and reduce the deficit.
2. Stop Paying Private Medicare Plans Anything More Than Traditional Medicare
According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), Medicare pays, on average, 10% more for beneficiaries enrolled in private insurance (Medicare Advantage or MA plans) than for comparable beneficiaries enrolled in traditional Medicare. Despite these extra payments, beneficiaries in private plans who are in poor health, or who have chronic conditions, often have more limitations on coverage than they would under traditional Medicare.
A large portion of the overpayments made to private plans actually goes to insurers rather than to benefit Medicare beneficiaries. Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) changed the payment formula forMedicare Advantage plans, some plans will continue to be paid as much as 115% of the average traditionalMedicare payment rate for their county when the new rates are fully implemented. MedPAC estimates that by 2017Medicare Advantage payment benchmarks will average 101% of traditionalMedicare. ACA also provides additional payments for plans that receive high quality ratings, increasing the likelihood that some MA plans will continue to be paid more than under traditionalMedicare. Reducing private MA payments to 100% of traditionalMedicare, as MedPAC proposed before the enactment of ACA, will increase the solvency of theMedicare program and curb costs for taxpayers. Private plans simply should not receive higher pay than traditionalMedicare.
3. Include a Drug Benefit in Traditional Medicare
Offering a drug benefit in traditional Medicare would give beneficiaries a choice they do not now have, encourage people to stay in traditional Medicare, and save money for taxpayers. It would also provide an alternative to unchecked private plans that leave many with unexpected high out-of-pocket costs. A drug benefit in traditional Medicare would protect beneficiaries against expensive and sometimes abusive marketing practices. Further, traditional Medicare’s lower administrative costs could free up money for quality care, would result in lower drug prices for beneficiaries, and save taxpayers over $20 billion a year.
4. Extend Medicaid Drug Rebates to Medicare Dual Eligibles
Dual eligibles (people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid) comprise one-fourth of all Medicare drug users, and are among the most costly beneficiaries. Because Medicare, rather than Medicaid, covers most of their drugs and because Medicare cannot negotiate drug prices, their drugs are not eligible for the same rebates as they would be under the traditional Medicaid program. Extending these rebates for dual eligibles would save at least $30 billion over ten years.
5. Lower the Age of Medicare Eligibility
People between 55 and 65 who are not disabled are currently unable to enroll in Medicare. Lowering the age of eligibility to allow this healthier population to enroll in the Medicare program would add revenue for people who will likely need less care and fewer services than older and disabled enrollees.
6. Let the Affordable Care Act Do Its Job
The Affordable Care Act includes many measures to control costs as well as models for reform that will increase the solvency of the Medicare program and lower the deficit while protecting Medicare’s guaranteed benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that repealing or defunding ACA would add $230 billion to the deficit while ignoring the real issue of rising overall health care costs, which contribute heavily to the growing national debt. ACA includes strong measures to allow CMS to combat fraud, waste, and abuse that will bring down costs, as well as a variety of pilot and demonstration projects that aim to bring better care and quality to beneficiaries. The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission recommended that these projects be implemented as quickly as possible. Allowing ACA to do its job will create a foundation on which to build by improving care and holding down costs for taxpayers.
Protecting”Medicare by shifting costs from the federal government to beneficiaries and their families – whether through the creation of a voucher program or through measures that would be required by spending caps – is a perversion of Medicare’s original purpose, which was to protect older people and their families from illness and financial ruin due to health care costs. The solutions proposed by the Center forMedicare Advocacy promote financial solvency without doing it at the expense of beneficiaries.
See previous Alerts from the Center, “Why Medicaid Matters to Medicare Beneficiaries and Their Families”, “What Happens to Current Nursing Home Residents if House Budget Resolution Becomes Law?”
National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, available at http://www.ncpssm.org/pdf/price_negotiation_part_d.pdf
Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Negotiating Prices with Drug Companies Could Save Medicare $30 Billion”, March 2007, available at http://www.cepr.net/index.php/press-releases/press-releases/negotiating-prices-with-drug-companies-could-save-medicare-30-billion.
MedPAC, Report to the Congress, March 2011, Chapter 12 (March 2011), available at http://www.medpac.gov/documents/Mar11_EntireReport.pdf.
 Neuman P. Medicare Advantage: Key Issues and Implications for Beneficiaries. Testimony before the House Committee on the Budget, United States House of Representatives, June 28, 2007, available at http://www.allhealth.org/briefingmaterials/NeumanTestimony-830.pdf,
 Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. March 2009 Report to Congress, Chapter 3: The Medicare Advantage Program. P. 251-253, available at http://www.medpac.gov/chapters/Mar09_Ch03.pdf.
Senator Dick Durbin, available at http://durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=555cc1e8-cc54-4ead-9d85-d5e6275b3789.
Congressional Budget Office, Letter to Honorable Charles Rangel, available at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/104xx/doc10464/hr3200.pdf
See previous Alert from the Center, “Combating Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in Health Care.”
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, “The Moment of Truth,” December 2010.
The new health reform law encourages states to create or expand existing state high-risk pools as one of the first steps towards insurance market reform and increasing access to health care for people who would not otherwise be able to obtain health insurance. State high risk pools can provide insurance, for example, for people who are receiving Social Security disability benefits but who are in the 24-month waiting period for Medicare.
Citing objections to a “federal takeover” of health care, Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner, John Oxendine, has announced that Georgia will not establish a high-risk pool for its residents with pre-existing conditions. The irony is that the health reform law also provides for the establishment of a federal high risk pool for uninsured people with pre-existing conditions that live in states that don’t have their own risk pool. So, by deciding that Georgia won’t establish its own program, Commissioner Oxendine is guaranteeing a “federal takeover” of health care – Georgia residents who can’t otherwise get insurance will only have the option of insurance through a federal, not state, program.
True, the bill that passed the Senate is far from perfect. But, can you imagine what the opposition would be saying if the bill met our standards for true health care reform? As it is, the brave Senators who led this battle have endangered their political careers. This includes Senator Chris Dodd (CT), senior Senator from the Center for Medicare Advocacy’s home state.
So we thank Senator Dodd and everyone who worked to get this good bill passed. Here are some highlight’s from Families USA: Manager’s amendment: Providing more competition and affordable choices for Americans ; Manager’s amendment: Improving quality and controlling costs ; Manager’s amendment: Enhancing affordable choices for small businesses .
Get some rest, all! Another big push to provide health care equity awaits us after we ring in 2010.
The Connecticut-Based, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Joins the Washington Post in Applauding our Senior Senator, Chris Dodd, and Apologizes for the Actions of Joe Lieberman, our Junior Senator, to Bar Real Health Reform.
The essay below is from the 12/15/2009 Washington Post:
The heroes of health-care reform
Right on the heels of Joe Lieberman trying to kill the bill because it had a Medicare buy-in proposal, Howard Dean is exhorting Democrats to kill the bill because it doesn’t have a Medicare buy-in proposal. Sigh.
So let this serve as an encomium to Ron Wyden, Tom Harkin, Chuck Schumer, Sherrod Brown, Chris Dodd and Jay Rockefeller, among many others. All of these senators could have been the 60th vote. All of them had issues they believe in and worked for. Chris Dodd built and passed a bill. Sherrod Brown whipped up liberal support for the public option. Chuck Schumer spent countless hours devising compromises and searching for new paths forward. Ron Wyden spent years crafting the Healthy Americans Act, getting a CBO score, pulling together co-sponsors, speaking to activists and industry groups and other legislators. Jay Rockefeller has spent decades on this issue and wasn’t even invited into the Gang of Six process.
But you know what? They’re all still there. Because in the end, this isn’t about them, and though their states and their pet issues might benefit if they tried to make it about them, the process, and thus the result, would be endangered. I’ve said before that the remarkable thing isn’t that Joe Lieberman acts the way he does but that so few join him. The legislative process is given a bad name by the showboats and grandstanders, but the only reason it functions at all is because the vast majority of the participants keep their role in perspective.
If this bill passes, it will not be because Lieberman was pacified. It will be because senators such as Rockefeller, Wyden, Schumer, Harkin, Brown and Dodd swallowed their pride and their passion and allowed him to be pacified. They are the heroes here, and beneath it all, their quiet determination made them the key players.
Photo credit: By Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press
Private Medicare Plans Are Taking You to the Cleaners. Cut the Subsidies Now! And Don’t Repeat This Windfall in Health Care Reform.
|New Report Highlights Medicare Advantage Insurers’ Higher Administrative Spending|
|Wednesday, 09 December 2009 11:51|
|Today Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak released a new report which found that 34 Medicare Advantage insurers expend significant sums on profits, marketing, and other corporate expenses. Last year, the insurers spent an average of $1,450 per beneficiary on profits, marketing, and other corporate expenses, nearly ten times as much as traditional Medicare spent on administrative expenses per beneficiary.On average, Medicare Advantage insurers spent over 15% of premium revenue on profits, marketing, and other corporate expenses. Two-thirds of the Medicare Advantage insurers surveyed by the Committee had a “medical loss ratio” – the percentage of premium revenues used to pay medical claims – below 85% during at least one of the four years examined. In contrast, traditional Medicare spends 98% of its money on medical care. If all Medicare Advantage plans had spent at least 85% of their premium dollars on medical care from 2005 to 2008, they would have spent an additional $3 billion on medical care for seniors.”Medicare plays a critically important role in insuring that millions of Americans receive the health care they need,” said Rep. Waxman. “But as this report shows, Medicare Advantage insurers are squandering billions of dollars on overhead costs – in fact, they spend ten times the amount per beneficiary as traditional Medicare. Our health care bill includes much needed reforms to the Medicare Advantage payment system. There is no reason for Medicare to pay private insurers more than traditional Medicare pays in any community in the country. That will insure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.””Medicare Advantage was never intended to be a program for insurance companies to pad their corporate expense accounts,” said Rep. Stupak. “Seniors pay Medicare Advantage premiums with the expectation that the money will be used to provide critical medical care – not pay for marketing campaigns and executive bonuses. The disparity between the percentage of premiums used to pay medical claims in traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage is unacceptable; our seniors deserve better. This report is just the latest example of private insurance companies exploiting the Medicare Advantage system for their own gain.”At the request of Chairman Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Stupak, the majority Committee staff analyzed premium revenues, medical claim payments, marketing costs, profits, and other data from 34 major Medicare Advantage insurers.
The report found:
As a spokesman for the AMA, Ronald Reagan said this about the dangers of passing Medicare: “… behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. Until one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Ronald Reagan, our beloved Republican president, said this as a spokesman against Medicare. Now Republicans laud Medicare, say they are its champion, but say that health care reform must not pass as it will lead to socialism and the demise of Medicare. There is little new under the sun!
Tell your senators to vote for health care reform – with a public option. Like Medicare it is desperately needed and, if passed, it too will become a beloved institution.
Someone, someday, will thank you for fighting for it and will praise your senators’ votes.