Seniors Worry About Medicare Reforms, Especially Changes To Medicare Advantage

The Associated Press: "While Democrats hail the sweeping legislation as the greatest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare, they also fear that seniors won't see it that way for this fall's elections. Indeed, Republicans have portrayed the overhaul as a raid on Medicare — a bedrock of retirement security — to provide money to pay for covering younger, uninsured workers and their families. An Associated Press-GfK survey in March found that 54 percent of seniors opposed the legislation that was then taking final shape in Congress, compared with 36 percent of people age 18-50. And last week a USA Today/Gallup Poll found that a majority of seniors said passing the bill was a bad thing — while younger people were positive about it."

"There's no doubt that broad cuts in projected Medicare payments to insurance plans, hospitals, nursing homes and other service providers will sting. What hasn't sunk in yet is that the new law also improves the lot of many Medicare beneficiaries. Obama is hoping that most will eventually conclude the plusses outweigh the minuses. Keenly aware that this is a congressional election year, Democrats structured the law so virtually all the cuts start next year and take effect only gradually." And for this year, the measure will help the more than 3 million seniors "who have been falling into a Medicare prescription coverage gap" by giving them "a $250 rebate, a down payment on closing the 'doughnut hole.' Nonetheless, seniors are anxious" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 3/31).

Kaiser Health News: In an examination of the claim that "cuts in the Medicare Advantage plans under the health care overhaul 'will cause massive disruption for the more than 10 million seniors' and many of them will lose coverage," KHN finds the claim is partially true. "The new health law will cut $136 billion in spending on the Advantage program by 2019, which currently pays private plans to administer Medicare benefits and pays them about 14 percent more than the per-patient cost of the traditional Medicare program. Plans use that subsidy to lure members with lower premium costs or extra benefits not normally paid for by Medicare, such as vision care or better prescription drug coverage. Some Democrats and analysts have argued the higher rates are wasteful. Even experts who support the change concede that the impact of the cuts could be evident." Meanwhile, in the same story, KHN staff writers fact check other health reform concerns, including whether comparative effectiveness research will lead to rationing of care, if reform will lead to longer wait times at the doctor's office and whether reform will end the TRICARE program (KHN staff, 3/31).

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