Posts tagged ‘Cost-sharing’
Proposed Budget Seeks to Reduce Dramatic Rise in Part B Costs: Advocates Remain Concerned About Underlying Causes
We agree it’s important to find a permanent solution to the physician payment formula (“Sustainable Growth Rate” or SGR), but the Bill passed by the House of Representatives today is not the answer. It isn’t balanced. It asks too much from beneficiaries without providing enough in return. It asks nothing from pharmaceutical or insurance companies. It continues the ever-increasing privatization of Medicare by increasing costs for beneficiaries for traditional Medicare and Medigap plans. It adds unnecessary costs for the Medicare program and taxpayers.
Of the portion of the SGR costs that will be off set, roughly half (approximately $35 billion of the total $70 billion over 10 years) would come from Medicare beneficiaries through changes that will increase their out-of-pocket costs for health care, including:
• Adding deductibles to Medigap plans purchased by new Medicare beneficiaries starting in 2020;
• Further means-testing premiums for higher-income beneficiaries; and
• Overall increases in Part B premiums.
While the SGR package would make the low-income, Qualified Individual (QI), program permanent, which we strongly support, and would minimally increase and temporarily extend important funding for beneficiary education and outreach, it does not address other key issues that serve as barriers to care. For example, instead of repealing the annual outpatient therapy caps, the process to seek an exception to the cap is extended for another two years. Instead of addressing hospital Observation Status, the Bill further extends enforcement of the so-called “two-midnight” rule.
In short, Medicare beneficiaries would pay too much, with too little in return. Major drug and insurance industries pay nothing, and stand to gain a great deal. As the SGR debate moves to the Senate, we hope further balance and improvements for beneficiaries will be made.
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 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.
Part B Cost-Sharing Lower Than Expected for 2012
Today the Obama Administration announced that Part B cost-sharing will be less than projected for all beneficiaries in 2012. The Part B deductible will decrease by $22 in 2012, from $162 per year in 2011 to $140 in 2012. Further, monthly Part B premiums will increase only slightly for those beneficiaries who have not had an increase in the last two years. Because there will be a cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients in 2012, the Part B premium will increase, but only by $3.50 – from $96.40 in 2011 to $99.90 in 2012. For those individuals who did have Part B premium increases in 2010 and 2011, the premium will actually decrease by $15.10 in 2012, from $115 to $99.90.
The Part B premium reductions are a result of slower Part B growth due in part to health care reform. The Affordable Care Act’s lower payment rates, reduced payments to private Medicare plans, and increased efforts to fight fraud and abuse are major factors contributing to this good news for Medicare, beneficiaries, and taxpayers. At the same time, health care reform has increased the value of Medicare – reducing beneficiary costs for prescription drugs, adding preventive care coverage, and eliminating cost-sharing for most preventive services.
In summary, between reduced Part B premiums and increased Social Security payments, the average Social Security recipient will have a net cost-of-living increase of $40 per month in 2012. Good news indeed.
 In 2010 and 2011, most beneficiaries were “held harmless” from the Part B premium increase because they did not have an increase in their Social Security.