Analyst Tells Seniors not to Rejoin Medicare HMOs
Seniors who have lost Medicare HMO coverage "should not rejoin another" HMO, warned Michael Weiss, chair of the Florida-based HMO rating company Weiss Ratings Inc., the Washington Post reports. In a survey of 237 insurers, Weiss Ratings found that 147 will have "fully or partially" dropped their Medicare plans by the end of the year, while 90 will continue to offer such plans. Weiss said, "The latest Medicare withdrawals greatly narrow the viable choices available to seniors down to just a handful of profitable and financially healthy Medicare HMOs, and even many of these may soon be dropping out of the business." This year, about 934,000 Medicare beneficiaries have lost Medicare HMO coverage and will have to decide whether to choose another HMO or stick with "guaranteed," traditional Medicare coverage, the Post reports. While in previous years, Weiss said he has advised seniors to choose "carefully" between HMO and traditional Medicare plans, this year, he "modified" his advice based on the "vulnerable" financial situations of some insurers. According to Weiss Ratings, 37 Medicare HMO plans are losing money, having lost $645 million in 1999 and $82 million during the first quarter of this year. Weiss said, "Rather than put the consumer through the trauma of having to go to another HMO and have to confront the same decision next year, we made the decision that it's best just to exit before they drop you." But Richard Coorsh, spokesperson for the Health Insurance Association of America, "disputed" Weiss' advice, saying that seniors should continue to compare HMO and traditional Medicare benefits. "We believe there is a role for Medicare (HMOs) and that role ought to remain. But it's increasingly difficult for many of these plans to be competitive in the face of insufficient money from the government." Coorsh added that older Americans "ought to have that option. It's important to seniors to know that there remain several Medicare (HMO) plans which provide excellent value and can continue to provide coverage that meets their needs" (Brubaker, Washington Post, 11/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.