One of the most troubling aspects of President Obama’s takeover of health care is the more than $200 billion in cuts that Obamacare is taking from the Medicare Advantage (MA) program – a program that over 15 million seniors and individuals with disabilities have chosen to enroll in across the United States. As of January 2014, Ohio had over 763,797 enrollees in the MA program and roughly 38,766 of those enrollees reside in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio. This administration must stop these cuts to the MA program from happening if they want to protect the well-being of seniors across the country.
Last year, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries learned of a 6.7 percent rate cut that would hit their health care plans in 2014. These cuts are already being felt by seniors as access to doctors becomes more limited, and out-of-pocket payments increase. I recently experienced firsthand what these cuts mean for those living in Ohio when a number of local physicians had their practices dropped from participation in MA plans, forcing seniors to switch plans or leave their long-term physicians.
Doctors throughout my district have expressed their deep concerns over the serious impact these cuts will have on their practices, and their patients. Seniors in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio are losing access to their doctors and seeing an increase in their premiums. Some patients are being forced to leave their doctors mid-treatment. This is unacceptable, especially when 9 out of 10 beneficiaries believe their MA plan helps them live a healthier life.
Over time, the MA program has grown in popularity – especially among seniors. This can be attributed to the fact that MA plans offer high quality care while also saving beneficiaries money by capping their out-of-pocket expenses, and sometimes even offering free glasses and bandages. For many living on a fixed income, an opportunity to save money and spend it elsewhere goes a long way. Disruption in the MA market could result in a dramatic increase in out-of-pocket costs by as much as $1750 compared to 2013. Additionally, MA plans have a track record for reducing hospitalizations and re-admissions, and reducing the amount of time spent in skilled nursing facilities. By focusing on prevention and disease management, MA plans have proven to contain costs and improve enrollee health outcomes.
With the recent trends of rising healthcare costs and ballooning federal deficits, we cannot afford to harm programs such as Medicare Advantage that have a proven track record of success. Bureaucrats and politicians in Washington can become so fixated on reforming a damaged health care system that they forget what parts of it work – and work well. When 95 percent of MA members rate the quality of care they receive as being “very high,” the last thing the federal government should be doing is indiscriminately cutting more than $200 billion from the program to pay for Obamacare.
And yet, this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is planning to issue a second MA rate cut for 2015, slashing an additional 6.5 percent from these senior plans. In addition to this, seniors enrolled in MA could see between $420 and $900 in benefit reductions next year. Those seniors, who have not yet experienced the disruptions of the first cut, are sure to with the second – MA plans will soon face a total rate cut of 13 percent.
The danger posed to the popularity of the MA program, and its success in improving health care and saving money, speaks volumes about the unintentional consequences of passing a massive, miscalculated 2,000 page health care bill into law. I urge the administration to stop further cuts to Medicare Advantage, and to hold rates flat to protect this important program that so many of our nation’s seniors rely on.
Bill Johnson represents Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District