Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Three Quick Medicare Hits

Ripped from the headlines today…

  1. No Democrat Victory on Medicare Advantage:  The White House released a blog posting trumpeting this morning’s Washington Post story on Medicare Advantage to claim that “Medicare Advantage is going strong.”  But dig deeper and you’ll find another story.  The Post article also quoted AARP – a staunch supporter of the law – to say “it may be a little early” for Democrats to be claiming that Medicare Advantage won’t be adversely affected by more than $200 billion in cuts, because “a lot of these changes [to Medicare Advantage] don’t kick in until next time around” in 2012.  Indeed, the CBO score of the law found that Medicare Advantage plans would be cut by only $1.8 billion in 2011, but $6 billion in 2012 – a nearly fourfold increase next year.  So the real story on Medicare Advantage is that plans are already dropping out – and with cuts scheduled to accelerate, the bad news for seniors can only get worse.
  2. If the Health Care Law Made Medicare “Stronger,” Why Are Doctors Being Driven Out of the Program?  AARP has also released a new ad campaign regarding scheduled cuts in Medicare physician payments scheduled to take effect on January 1.  The headline of the ad: “Don’t let Congress drive your doctor out of Medicare.”  Of course, Medicare physician payments are on the chopping block only because Democrats did not address it in the health care law, choosing to re-direct Medicare savings that would have financed a permanent “doc fix” to fund new entitlements instead.  But why is the Administration placing taxpayer-funded advertisements claiming that “Medicare just got stronger” thanks to the health care law if its allies like AARP are claiming that Congress is driving doctors out of Medicare due to looming reimbursement cuts?
  3. Hypocrisy Much on Insurance Competition?  The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released an analysis of deficit reduction proposals that once again illustrates Democrat double-standards when it comes to private insurers competing against government.  Specifically, the report analyzed the Rivlin-Domenici plan’s concept of a premium support system, whereby private Medicare Advantage plans would compete on a level playing field with traditional, government-run Medicare. (Right now, Medicare Advantage plans only bid against a benchmark set in statute, and do not directly compete against traditional Medicare.)  Here’s what CBPP said about constructing a premium support mechanism:

It may be possible in theory to structure a premium support system to assure that traditional Medicare and the private plans compete on a level playing field and that private plans do not enroll healthier beneficiaries, on average.  Traditional Medicare would need authority to offer an integrated benefit package, including drug and supplemental coverage, and to update that package in response to changes in the health care system and the insurance market.  In addition, the private plans would have to be subject to substantial regulation; it would be necessary to limit those plans to offering standardized benefit packages (to ensure that benefit packages were not designed to deter sicker individuals) and to preclude them from offering additional services designed to entice healthier enrollees.  In practice, securing congressional approval for legislation allowing or requiring such regulation would be extremely difficult, as would monitoring and enforcing such regulations adequately and effectively.

In other words, creating a government-run health plan to siphon individuals away from private insurance for individuals under age 65 “would likely spur competition” and should be implemented, but allowing private Medicare Advantage plans to compete head-to-head against government-run Medicare is so difficult that Congress shouldn’t even bother considering it.  Slightly contradictory?  You decide…