So – What Would You Do? Real Solutions for Medicare Solvency and Reducing the Deficit

June 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm Leave a comment

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.[1] 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.[2] Taxpayers currently pay nearly 70% more for drugs in the Medicare program than through the Veteran’s Administration, which has direct negotiating power.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

A large portion of the overpayments made to private plans actually goes to insurers rather than to benefit Medicare beneficiaries.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9] The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission recommended that these projects be  implemented as quickly as possible.[10] Allowing ACA to do its job will create a foundation on which to build by improving care and holding down costs for taxpayers.

Conclusion 

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.


[1]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?”
[2]National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, available at http://www.ncpssm.org/pdf/price_negotiation_part_d.pdf
[3]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.
[4]MedPAC, Report to the Congress, March 2011, Chapter 12 (March 2011), available at http://www.medpac.gov/documents/Mar11_EntireReport.pdf.
[5] 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,
[6] 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.
[7]Senator Dick Durbin, available at http://durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=555cc1e8-cc54-4ead-9d85-d5e6275b3789.
[8]
Congressional Budget Office, Letter to Honorable Charles Rangel, available at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/104xx/doc10464/hr3200.pdf
[9]See previous Alert from the Center, “Combating Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in Health Care.”
[10]The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, “The Moment of Truth,” December 2010.

Entry filed under: Fiscal Responsibility, Health Care Reform, Medicare Reform, Public Option, Public vs. Private Health Coverage, Vouchers. Tags: .

10 Years of Tax Cuts for the Rich, 10 Years of Increased Debt Lower Medicare Age

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Health Policy Expertise

We provide effective, innovative opportunities to impact federal Medicare and health care policies and legislation in order to advance fair access to Medicare and quality health care.

Judith A. Stein, Executive Director

Contact us by email
for a free consultation,
Or call at (202) 293-5760.
Se habla español
June 2011
M T W T F S S
« May   Jul »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Feeds


%d bloggers like this: