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From the monthly archives: September 2009

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'September 2009'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Fighting Medicare Malarkey

National Committee Truth Squad Releases New Video

badge2_3x3-full sizeWill health care reform hurt seniors?  That's the issue we tackle in the latest National Committee Truth Squad video.  And it's an issue that deserves more than just screaming town halls and soundbite answers.  We've compiled all of our policy analysis on the various health care reform proposals and other important information on our Truth Squad page.  Here is our latest Truth Squad video on our YouTube Channel:

Your Tax $ at Work—Private Insurers Send Scare Mail to Seniors to Protect their Billions in Subsidies

CMS logoCMS  is investigating Humana for trying to scare seniors about health care reform efforts in Congress.  At issue is a letter Humana sent to its Medicare Advantage members claiming: 
"millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage health plans so valuable."
TPMmuckraker, has a copy of the letter here.  Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, says: 
"It is wholly unacceptable for insurance companies to mislead seniors regarding any subject — particularly on a subject as important to them, and to the nation, as health care reform. The health care reform bill we released last week strengthens Medicare and does not cut benefits covered under the Medicare program – and seniors need to know that."
CMS called the information included in Humana's mailings "misleading and confusing" and is investigating whether Humana broke any laws. CMS has now told Humana to stop the mailings and shut down the website created for seniors to send pre-written form letters to Congress.  In it’s letter to Humana, CMS says the mailing:
"represents information to beneficiaries as official communications about the Medicare Advantage program, and is potentially contrary to federal regulations and guidance for the MA and Part D programs and other federal law, including HIPAA”
Of course, Humana’s letter also doesn’t bother to explain that the decision to drop MA coverage for seniors actually rests with the insurers themselves.  It’s America’s private insurers who are threatening to drop their coverage for seniors (just as happened after privatization efforts of the 80’s-90’s) if the government doesn’t continue to overpay them to the tune of $157 billion in subsidies over the next decade.  There is nothing in the Finance Committee proposal or any other which cuts coverage for seniors in Medicare -- just private insurers’ threats to do so if they can’t keep their government subsidies.   Humana also didn’t mention that even though the insurance industry has told Congress for decades it could provide better healthcare for seniors while saving Medicare money, it has never happened.  Currently, private insurers like Humana charge Medicare an average of 14% more per beneficiary to provide coverage for only 20% of the Medicare population.  Those inflated payments to Medicare Advantage plans cost $15 billion a year, and are funded by all taxpayers and all Medicare beneficiaries (not just the 20 percent enrolled in private plans). Equalizing Medicare payments would save billions of dollars, reduce Medicare Part B premiums by $3.00 a month per beneficiary and return more than a year of solvency to the Medicare hospital trust fund.   Seniors should also keep in mind that according to MedPAC only about half of these overpayments to private insurers is used to deliver extra benefits for enrollees in Private Fee-For-Service plans. The remainder of the payments goes to administrative costs, marketing, and corporate profits.  And, now comes the latest abuse, political mailers sent to seniors to scare them into unknowingly supporting higher premiums, reduced solvency for Medicare and billions in outrageous insurance industry giveaways.

Breaking News...Insurance Industry Report Says its Billions in Medicare Subsidies Should be Continued

Clearly not all reports are created equal.  So when the insurance industry lobby, AHIP  (America’s Health Insurance Plans),  releases another of it’s reports detailing why it’s a good idea for taxpayers and seniors to pay the industry billions in subsidies it’s not too hard to see what’s really going on.  The insurance industry knows it has to launch a pretty good public relations campaign to defend taking $169 billion in government subsidies to provide what Medicare is already doing...and could do even better with that chunk of change.  Our President/CEO Barbara Kennelly has this reaction to AHIP latest report:
 “For decades the insurance industry has told Congress it could provide better healthcare for seniors while saving Medicare money.  However, it has never happened.  But every year or so we do see a new batch of reports from the health insurance lobby defending the billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies going to insurers providing Medicare Advantage plans. These reports never address the core issue: Why should the government pay private industry 14% more to serve beneficiaries in Medicare when that same money could have been used to improve coverage to all Medicare beneficiaries, not the 20% enrolled in private plans?   Already, $44 billion dollars in government subsidies have gone to private Medicare Advantage insurers and $169 billion will be spent in subsidies over a decade. Every Medicare beneficiary (even those not in private plans) is paying higher premiums to cover these massive overpayments while also bringing the Medicare Trust Fund even closer to insolvency.  Rather than promoting improved care for a small group of Medicare beneficiaries, it’s time we focus on improving care for all seniors in Medicare.  The best way to do that is to support meaningful health care reform system wide and in Medicare.  Getting rid of these outrageous insurance industry subsidies is a good start. " 
Chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, Rep. Pete Stark, had this to say: 
"AHIP’s reports attempt to portray taxpayer overpayments to MA plans as indispensable for low-income, minority Medicare beneficiaries, when the opposite is true. These overpayments to private insurers increase premiums for all Medicare beneficiaries to pad the pockets of insurance companies.”
 We’ve written extensively on Medicare Advantage over the years including the following: 

Health Care Reform and Social Security?

Stethescope-moneyXSmall If you’re younger than 62 years of age, you might wonder what health care reform could possibly have to do with Social Security retirement benefits.  But the connection is painfully clear for millions of Social Security beneficiaries who have watched growing health care costs consume more and more of their monthly Social Security checks.    The Social Security Advisory board, (an independent group created to advise the President and Congress on Social Security issues) has released a new report  calling on Congress to find lasting solutions to the long-term problem of escalating health care costs.  
“This Board believes it is necessary to offer our own perspectives, not because we are particular experts in health care policy, but we believe that the rising cost of health care represents perhaps the most significant threat to the long-term economic security of workers and retirees. Current projections indicate that health care costs will increase by more than 70 percent over the next ten years and will continue thereafter to consume an increasingly greater portion of personal income. For today's retirees, for those retiring in 2009 who are expected to live another 20 years, and for younger workers in their 30s who will not begin their retirements until mid-century, unrestrained health care costs would likely mean a decline in their standard of living.”
In other Social Security news, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation that would provide seniors and others who receive Social Security payments a one-time $150 payment to make up for the loss of the COLA.  The bill has 14 Democratic cosponsors.
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