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From the monthly archives: July 2007

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'July 2007'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

It Should Be an Easy Choice

There has been a lot of activity in the SCHIP/Medicare debate in the House last week and today in the full Senate. Kaiser Daily Health Report has a nice editorial roundup of the debate.

But we’ve also seen a number of blog discussions in which it’s clear even those who are paying attention to this debate are still confused about the players. So, here it is in a nutshell.

Virtually every major health and senior’s advocacy group (NCPSSM, AMA, Medicare Rights Center, AARP, Families USA, etc.) supports the House SCHIP/Medicare act called the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act or “CHAMP”.These organizations are supporting cuts in industry subsidies…not cuts to seniors. For advocates committed to senior and health issues this is a no-brainer. Here is the AMA/AARP ad.

The only "seniors group" fighting against CHAMP is an organization created by the insurance industry. Here’s their ad.

So, it’s easy to see how people are confused. But CHAMP does not take away seniors’ Medicare. It does require Medicare Advantage private insurers to be paid at the same rate as traditional Medicare, ending the industry gravy train, which has meant hefty profits to insurance companies collecting billions in taxpayer supported subsidies at the same time.

The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, sums up the debate this way:

“The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage -- a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children's health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments. So what kind of philosophy says that it's O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?”

Industry subsidies or children’s healthcare…it should be an easy choice.

This is a Debate to Watch

Two key House Committees are debating important "CHAMP" legislation which reauthorizes and improves the State Children’s Health Insurance program while also making desperately needed reforms to the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, including the elimination of Medicare Advantage subsidies to private insurers.

This is very important legislation for seniors and children alike. You can watch the House Energy and Commerce Committtee hearing mark-up of this bill live at 11:30am and the House Ways & Means Committee at 1:00pm.

The House Ways & Means Committee has also created two wonderful "Truth Squad" reports which provide the facts about this legislation which you won't hear from tobacco companies afraid a tax might limit their sales and insurers worried about losing billions in subsidies. Here's the Tobacco Tax Truth Report and the Rural Care Truth Report on what this legislation really means for rural beneficiaries currently being targeted by an industry scare campaign which is threatening a loss of healthcare in rural America.

This is a critical debate for the future of healthcare of young and old alike. If Congress can't manage to do the right thing for seniors and can't help but wonder how urgent system-wide reform will be possible.

Intergenerational Approach?

Tomorrow the House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider legislation that would reauthorize and expand SCHIP and make revisions to Medicare. The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to take up the legislation on Thursday.

While the Senate SCHIP bill does not include Medicare provisions, Congress Daily reports that the House bill would increase SCHIP funding by $50 billion over five years while also tackling many of the Medicare reforms sought by healthcare and seniors’ advocates, including the National Committee. Congress daily reports:

“The bill would also: reverse a scheduled cut in Medicare payments to physicians and provide a modest increase in fees for each of the next two years,abolish a provision of the 2003 Medicare law that mandates the president propose changes in Medicare to limit the program's reliance on general revenue, give state insurance commissioners more power to regulate the marketing of private MA plans by agents and brokers, reduce payments to private MA plans, which are estimated to be 12% higher than payments to the traditional program for equivalent benefits, increase reimbursement rates for rural health providers in 2008 and provide larger subsidies to lower-income beneficiaries.”

Kaiser Daily Health Report provides a good roundup of the latest SCHIP/Medicare coverage today.

The Senate and House leadership say they want to pass SCHIP legislation before the August recess.

Clearing the Fog

Thanks to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities for "Informing the Debate About Curbing Medicare Advantage Overpayments".

That's the name of a wonderfully simple primer on Medicare Advantage which answers all of the basic questions about these private Medicare plans and the multi-billion dollar price tag they bring.
If you're wondering what's really going on with these private Medicare plans this is a great place to start.

Insurer Profits Up (again) While Seniors & Taxpayers Pay the Price

Not only are insurers receiving billions in government subsidies to operate private Medicare plans but new profit numbers out this week show business is very good if you’re an insurance company with a piece of the Medicare privatization pie.

“UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest U.S. health insurer, said profit rose 22 percent on gains from government-sponsored medical programs.”… United Health Profit Rises on Government Medical Plans , Bloomberg 7/19/07

“Health insurer Humana Inc. on Wednesday reported higher-than-expected second-quarter profit, mainly because of improving cost trends, and its shares rose as much as 10.4 percent to a record high. The company,one of the largest providers of Medicare health plans for the elderly, also rasied its full-year earnings forecast, which easily topped Wall Street's forecasts.” … Humana Profit Beats Outlook, Reuters, 07/18/07

Remember that while private insurers collect these record high profits the government is also paying them $1,000 on average more per beneficiary to provide health care coverage already provided by traditional Medicare. And, a married couple on Medicare is now paying $48 more in annual premiums to help cover billions in overpayments to insurers. These overpayments have cut two years from Medicare’s solvency according to the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC). MedPAC also estimates that in the case of Private Fee-for-Service plans only half of the excess payments to insurers are being used for extra benefits to seniors. It’s easy to see where the rest may be going…

“Humana has now raised its full-year forecast twice in the past two
months. However, the company's bullish outlook may not play well with U.S.lawmakers as they weigh whether Medicare Advantage reimbursements are too rich,CIBC's McDonald said. ‘If Congress is arguing already that they overpay you, and then you come out and you beat numbers and raise guidance on better Medicare margins, you wonder if that just gives Congress more ammunition to cut rates,’ McDonald said.”…Reuters

We can only hope.

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