Minority Groups Oppose Proposed Reduction in Funds for Medicare Advantage Plans
House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have said that they might reduce reimbursements to private Medicare Advantage plans to cover the cost of other health care proposals, but such efforts "might become a flash point among minority groups in the health care debate this year," CongressDaily reports. According to CongressDaily, Medicare reimbursements for MA plans -- which cover extra benefits, such as vision and hearing tests and treatments -- are 12% more than reimbursements for the fee-for-service program for equivalent benefits. Minority groups maintain that a reduction in funds for Medicare Advantage plans would prompt health care providers to end participation in the plans, which enroll a large number of low-income beneficiaries and minorities (Johnson, CongressDaily, 3/15). In a March 14 letter to House members, Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington, D.C., Bureau, wrote that Medicare Advantage plans "disproportionately provide coverage to low-income and racial and ethnic minority beneficiaries." He added, "By providing more comprehensive benefits and lower cost-sharing than traditional Medicare," Medicare Advantage plans help minorities "gain access to health care services that are critical to their long-term health and well-being" (CQ HealthBeat, 3/14). In addition, in a letter to House members and senators, League of United Latin American Citizens National President Rosa Rosales wrote, "LULAC calls upon your leadership to oppose these reduction cuts and fund (Medicare Advantage) programs to sustainable levels." A House Ways and Means Committee spokesperson said, "We have no intention of eliminating the Medicare Advantage program; however, we believe there are more efficient ways to strengthen Medicare's outreach to low-income or minority communities without incurring the waste associated with the Medicare Advantage program" (CongressDaily, 3/15).
Stark on Thursday "let loose" when asked about NAACP opposition to proposed reductions in reimbursements to Medicare Advantage plans, CQ HealthBeat reports. He said opponents have overstated the effect of reductions in Medicare Advantage payments on minorities. In addition, Stark accused Karen Ignagni -- president of America's Health Insurance Plans, which opposes the reductions -- of "lying, using false information." A Stark aide said that "charts used by AHIP in their analysis of the issue draw into question the validity of their own assertion" about the number of minorities enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. Stark also said that AHIP is "suggesting that there would be no Medicare Advantage plans" as a result of the reductions. He added, "Nobody's suggested that. They've got to get to the table to share (cuts) just like everybody else." A spokesperson for AHIP said "the politics of personal attack is not something our association or industry has ever been engaged in, and we won't start now," adding, "We will continue to point out to the (Ways and Means) committee and to all senators and House members the value of MA plans to their constituents" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 3/15).