According to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report, aligning Medicare drug payments with what Medicaid pays just for low-income beneficiaries would save $137.4 Billion over ten years. (CBO Estimates for President’s Budget for 2013, 3/16/2012).
While the President suggested this reform in his State of the Union address, discounting what Medicare pays for drugs has thus far not been taken seriously by decision-makers.
Instead, we have repeatedly been told that Medicare cannot be sustained and that benefit cuts are necessary. Yet all these Medicare benefit cuts combined would only equal $35.4 Billion in savings over ten years:
1. Increasing income-related Part B premiums;
2. Increasing income-related Part D premiums;
3. Increasing Part B deductible for new enrollees;
4. Adding a Part B premium surcharge for first-dollar Medigap coverage;
5. Adding home health co-pays for new enrollees.
If all of these benefit cuts, that would hurt older and disabled people, save only 25% of the savings that would be achieved by requiring drug companies to give the same discounts to Medicare as it gives to Medicaid, why don’t we choose drug discounts? How can benefit cuts be preferable if the goals are to reduce the deficit and save Medicare for future generations?
Lower Medicare payments for prescription drugs. Choose People and Medicare over PRxOFITS!
Want to lower the costs of Medicare for all beneficiaries and taxpayers? Lower the prices Medicare pays for prescription drugs! Like Medicaid and the Veterans Administration – Medicare should negotiate discounts for all beneficiaries. This would save over $200 Billion over the next 10 years.
It’s time to end the Bush era gift to the pharmaceutical industry, which got 50 million new customers when Medicare began covering drugs in 2006, without being asked to lower prices in return. Walmart and Costco negotiate prices for all their customers, that’s how their customers pay less. Medicare should do no less for its “customers.” Surely older people, people with disabilities and taxpayers deserve the kind of consideration given to Walmart shoppers.
“Check out our website for a full list of solutions that would preserve Medicare coverage while reducing costs to taxpayers.”
Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a new budget outlook with updated data on expected federal costs of programs including Medicare and Medicaid over the next ten years. According to the CBO, Medicare spending in 2012 grew by only 3% – the lowest rate of growth in over a decade, and a rate much lower than that of the private market. In fact, the Washington Post notes that “From the March 2010 baseline to the current baseline…[CBO] lowered estimates of federal spending for the two programs in 2020 by about $200 billion — by $126 billion for Medicare and by $78 billion for Medicaid, or by roughly 15 percent for each program”.
The new baseline estimates indicate that Medicare is leading the way in controlling costs, and that Medicare has significantly contributed to lowering the nation’s deficit through innovative payment and delivery models as well as reductions in overpayments to private insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.
CBO’s outlook illustrates that Medicare is not the problem, but rather the solution that policymakers should look to for addressing the real issue of overall health care costs affecting payers system-wide. While many look to slash Medicare and Medicaid in the name of deficit reduction through proposals like raising Medicare’s eligibility age or fragmenting the program through further means-testing, the CBO estimates reveal that such proposals are not rooted in fiscal policy. As the Post points out, “…$200 billion out of [Medicare and Medicaid] is nothing to sneeze at; that’s about double the revenue the government would generate by raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.”
The Center for Medicare Advocacy has long maintained that if policymakers are really concerned about strengthening Medicare and reducing the deficit, cutting benefits is the wrong approach – and new polling shows that over 60% of Americans agree. In fact, 85% of Americans strongly favor one of the Center’s Solutions to reduce the deficit: Requiring drug companies to give the government a better deal on medications for people on Medicare. Whether Congress chooses instead to protect the windfall profits of pharmaceutical companies rather than protecting people living on less than $22,000 a year and rely on Medicare to maintain their health remains to be seen.
 Congressional Budget Office, The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2013 to 2023, available at http://cbo.gov/publication/43907.
 Washington Post, Wonkblog: Three Ways CBO Expects Health Spending to Change. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/05/three-ways-cbo-expects-health-spending-to-change/
 Center for Medicare Advocacy, Medicare Facts and Fiction: Costs and Spending Edition, available at http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/2013/01/10/medicare-facts-and-fiction-costs-and-spending-edition/
 Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health: The Public’s Health Care Agenda for the 113th Congress, available at http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/8405.cfm.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy, along with its co-counsel Vermont Legal Aid are pleased that the Settlement Agreement in the Medicare Improvement Standard case, Jimmo v. Sebelius, was approved January 24, 2013 at the conclusion of a scheduled fairness hearing, marking a critical step forward for thousands of beneficiaries nationwide.
The plaintiffs joined with the named defendant, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, in asking the federal judge to approve the settlement of the case. With only one written comment received, and no class members appearing at the fairness hearing to question the settlement, Chief Judge Christina Reiss granted the motion to approve the Settlement Agreement on the record, while retaining jurisdiction to enforce the agreement in the future, as requested by the parties.
“We are not surprised but are very pleased that the judge ruled the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate,” said Gill Deford, Litigation Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “This moment is a culmination of two years of hard work, in conjunction with partners and advocates, to ensure that those who need health services covered under the Medicare law are not denied based on an illegal, outdated rule of thumb.”
With the settlement now officially approved, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is tasked with revising its Medicare Benefit Policy Manual and numerous other policies, guidelines and instructions to ensure that Medicare coverage is available for skilled maintenance services in the home health, nursing home and outpatients settings. CMS must also develop and implement a nationwide education campaign for all who make Medicare determinations to ensure that beneficiaries with chronic conditions are not denied coverage for critical services because their underlying conditions will not improve.
“It is important to note that the Settlement Agreement standards for Medicare coverage of skilled maintenance services apply now – while CMS works on policy revisions and its education campaign,” said Judith Stein, Executive Director, Center for Medicare Advocacy. “We’ve been hearing from beneficiaries who are still being denied Medicare coverage based on an Improvement Standard. Coverage should be available now for people who need skilled maintenance care and meet any other qualifying Medicare criteria. This is the law of the land – agreed to by the federal government and approved by the federal judge. We encourage people to appeal should they be denied Medicare for skilled maintenance nursing or therapy because they are not improving.”
For people needing assistance with appeals, the Center for Medicare Advocacy has self-help materials available on its website, www.medicareadvocacy.org. This information can help individuals understand proper coverage rules and learn how to contest Medicare denials for outpatient, home health, or skilled nursing facility care.
“It is exciting to know that by this time next year, Medicare policies will clearly state that coverage for skilled maintenance nursing and therapy is available, and that a beneficiary’s access to coverage does not depend on the potential for improvement, but rather on the need for skilled care,” continued Stein.
To speak with a representative of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, please contact Lauren Weybrew at email@example.com or 914-833-7093. Learn more about the Center for Medicare Advocacy at www.medicareadvocacy.org
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.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy has represented Medicare beneficiaries since 1986. As one of the few advocacy organizations in the nation solely serving Medicare beneficiaries, we strongly oppose home health episodic payment caps or any other such defined payment limits. The counterpart to this notion, caps on outpatient therapy, has created significant barriers to necessary care for thousands of our clients with long-term and chronic conditions. We have no doubt that episode caps would be harmful to some of those in greatest need of home care. Thus, we are adamantly opposed to such limits in the home health context.
The Center has long opposed Medicare home health co-payments, and continues to do so. Like caps, co-payments will limit access to in-home care for those most in need of these services. However, we are increasingly concerned about proposals to introduce home health payment limits. There is no question that home health payment limits would be disproportionately harmful for people with conditions such as traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, MS, and other such illnesses and disabilities. Without the possibility for ongoing home health care, these individuals may well need costly nursing home or hospital care.
• Our client, Mrs. Berkowitz, who is 81 years old and receives skilled physical therapy and home health aide services for her Multiple Sclerosis and related health needs, will require a nursing home if payment caps are instituted for Medicare home health.
Payment caps contradict and undermine growing efforts to promote better care, at lower costs, by encouraging and investing in home and community-based services.
Payment caps would also undermine the settlement just arrived at with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the national class action law suit, Jimmo vs. Sebelius. The Jimmo Settlement makes it clear that Medicare coverage is available for home health patients who need skilled nursing or therapy to maintain or slow deterioration of their conditions. Jimmo holds the promise of continuing care at home for people with long-term conditions who would otherwise often need more intense and expensive institutional care. Medicare home health payment caps, however, would create a barrier to this care and provide a disincentive to home health agencies to offer care to this particularly vulnerable population.
President Barack Obama’s re-election offers an opportunity to further implement the tenets of the Affordable Care Act, and help strengthen the Medicare program as a whole for the 50 million beneficiaries nationwide.
“The Center for Medicare Advocacy looks forward to working with President Obama and the new Congress to ensure fair access to Medicare and health care,” says Judith Stein, the founder and executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “We are hopeful that we can now move forward to preserve a full and fair Medicare program for current and future generations.” Stein continued. “By implementing the Affordable Care Act and moving away from unnecessarily expensive private plans, we can increase Medicare solvency and bring down health care costs. This is good news for beneficiaries, taxpayers, and the deficit.”
One recent step to ensuring fair coverage to all was the settlement of a class action suit brought by the Center against the”Improvement Standard,” an illegal but long practiced rule of thumb that resulted in Medicare denials based on chances of improvement – leaving thousands of beneficiaries with chronic conditions without coverage.