Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why All the Fuss about Medicare Advantage?

 Are you caring for someone that gets his or her medical benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan? Or perhaps you are in one yourself.  Or are you just confused by all the competing political rhetoric in the media about this? Why all the fuss?

Lately, the political landscape has been inundated with partisan headlines stating that the  government will soon be taking Medicare away from our seniors. Nonsense!

Ads, press releases, and news quotes from certain politicians are designed to create fear and an emotional reaction…and if they were telling the truth, that would be OK. But the messages are full of distortions and innuendo and are not to be taken seriously.

First of all, the public needs to understand that Medicare Advantage was created as a back door approach to privatizing Medicare. It should be known as the “Private Option.” Its long-range purpose is to destroy traditional Medicare, something special interests have been trying to do since Medicare was established in 1965.

Traditional Medicare is one of the most successful government programs ever created. It has had decades of proven success in protecting the elderly from poverty caused by hefty medical expenses. One must think twice (maybe three times) before tampering with such a program.

Yet this is what Medicare Advantage does. It replaces traditional Medicare with a variety of private insurance products. It is a remake of a previous such attempt known as Medicare + Choice, a program that failed when the private insurers involved decided it wasn’t profitable enough and dumped thousands of aging enrollees into the marketplace. This could happen again.

Yet, on the surface, Medicare Advantage looks like a better deal to many seniors. It is designed to do so by offering more benefits for a lower premium. What can possibly be wrong with that? Well, let’s look more closely. There are no free lunches. Never have been and never will be.

How can beneficiaries get more by spending less? Here’s how! Government is subsidizing the premiums. Oh! So where is the money coming from to do this? Simple! It comes from the higher premiums people on regular Medicare have to pay so Advantage customers can enjoy these benefits. Not cool!

It gets worse. We also know that for every dollar of additional premium that insurance companies get through Uncle Sam, only about 14 cents goes to benefits and 86 cents goes to additional insurance company profits.  Medicare Advantage is a boondoggle to the insurance companies!

You don’t believe me? Then take a look at this Washington Post article:    Is Medicare Advantage Worth It?

So the screams you hear about the pain of ending some Medicare Advantage programs is coming from protectors of insurance company profits disguised as concern for elderly patients. Crocodile tears if ever there were any.

Yes, it’s true that some Medicare Advantage beneficiaries might have to switch to traditional Medicare. The result: they’ll have to pay a bit more to get a little less. But the rest of the Medicare community, the majority of older adults, would see their premiums come down.

Remember all of this when next you hear the scream machine trying to get you worked up about this issue.