HHS 'Special Mailing' On Health Law's Immediate Medicare Benefits Sparks GOP Grumbles

CQ HealthBeat: "Education or propaganda? Or 'beyond propaganda?' The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Monday that it will soon send Medicare beneficiaries a special mailing on 'the immediate benefits they may see' from the health care overhaul law. Getting accurate information about key provisions of the law will help Medicare enrollees 'to be on the alert for any scams asking for personal information,' explained acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in an agency news release Monday. ... CMS learned from implementing the Medicare prescription drug and other laws that 'unfortunately new opportunities for Medicare beneficiaries also bring new opportunities for scam artists to try and defraud seniors'" (Reichard, 5/24).

McKnight's Long Term Care News: "The mailing will outline the immediate impact of the Affordable Care Act on Medicare benefits. It will mention that the agency will issue a one-time check for $250 for seniors who will fall into the Medicare Part D coverage gap and will not receive Medicare Extra Help. ... Other changes include preventive care services, such as colorectal cancer screening and mammograms, without cost-sharing, as well as new crackdowns on criminals who are seeking to scam seniors and steal taxpayer dollars" (5/25).

Contra Costa Times: "The publication is [also] available under the 'What's New' section at www.medicare.gov." Among other changes, "the law promises to combat elder abuse and neglect and improve nursing homes. Although it gave no details, the publication said the law creates a voluntary insurance program called CLASS to help pay for long-term care and support at home" (Hughes, 5/24).

ABC News: "Other areas are massaged more carefully in the brochure. For instance, the law will cut by more than $130 billion over ten years government payments to companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans. About one quarter of Medicare beneficiaries are on these plans, which replace normal fee for service Medicare with a bundled plan overseen by a private administrator. In the mailing to seniors, [HHS Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius does not use the word 'cut,' but instead points out that the government pays more per person for these plans than for fee for service plans."

"While most experts agree that some Medicare Advantage providers will pull out of the market, Sebelius says that the new law will 'protect Medicare Advantage members by taking strong steps to ensure that at least 85 % of every dollar these plans receive is spent on health care, rather than administrative costs and insurance company profits.' She is referring to new rules on so-called Medical Loss Ratios that require all insurers – not just those providing Medicare Advantage plans – to spend between 80 and 85 percent of medical premiums on care" (Wolf, 5/24).

Congress Daily: "Republicans criticized the mailing as a purely political move by the Obama administration to gain support for the health law. 'This goes beyond propaganda and is blatantly political,' said Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp. 'If this document is really about Medicare, then why is there information in there about 26-year-olds being able to stay on their parents' policies?' Camp asked in a statement" (McCarthy, 5/25).

Roll Call: "Public opinion surveys continue to show public dissatisfaction with the law, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's legislative agenda over his first year in office. … Polls show seniors have particular concerns about the law's effect on Medicare" (Drucker, 5/24).

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