Democrats Joining Republicans in Protest Over Medicare Advantage Cuts

Sunday, 06 Apr 2014 05:36 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Several Democrats — including some lawmakers whose re-election bids are seen as vulnerable in this year's midterm races — are joining Republicans in calling for the Obama administration to stop proposed cuts to the Medicare Advantage program.

Administration officials plan to announce the 2015 rates for the program on Monday, reports The Hill, and could prove a sensitive issue as both parties are courting the senior citizens who tend to turn out in high numbers to vote in midterms.

Republicans say the program is a valid private alternative to Medicare, as it allows seniors to enroll in plans offered by private insurers, who are then directly paid by the federal government.

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Until now, Democrats have complained that the plan receives a disportionate amount of money compared to the Medicare program, and Obamacare was partially funded through $200 billion in cuts over 10 years.

Opponents include Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, considered two of the Democratic Party's most vulnerable senators seeking re-election. But some powerful Democrats are also speaking out, including Sens. Charles Schumer and Michael Bennett.

Opponents staged a protest on the House floor Thursday to ramp up the pressure on Obama.

"I oppose these cuts, and I have called upon the president to reverse course and protect this critical program," said Democratic Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona.

Earlier this year, 19 Democrats joined with 21 Republicans to sign a letter urging Medicare Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to protect the Medicare plan passed under President George W. Bush, which is designed to give seniors more healthcare plan options from private insurers. Twenty-eight percent of seniors now participate in the plan.

Insurers say they will be forced to pass on higher costs to seniors or cut benefits if their rates are reduced, and some plans may drop out altogether. The impact could vary significantly around the country.

The industry says the cuts come as Medicare Advantage reductions programmed under the healthcare law are ramping up. The law sought to compensate for prior years in which the plans were overpaid. But it also includes a new tax on insurers, so industry officials fear the combined impact will be much higher.

The issue is already coming up in early primaries, with Republicans who vowed to make Obamacare the key issue this election cycle tying Democrats to the proposed Medicare Advantage cuts.

And even though Landrieu opposes the cuts, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., has attacked her over them, saying that her vote helped get Obamacare approved and bring about the cuts that she now opposes.

The insurance industry is also fighting the White House over the cuts, with insurers spending millions on a public relations campaign to hammer the message that "seniors are watching" Washington.

But the Obama administration says the cuts will pay back "overpayments" to the program, which has resulted in Medicare Advantage receiving more benefits than Medicare.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services say that the cuts will will strengthen the program by rooting out waste, and enrollment in Medicare Advantage will remain stable, even with the cuts.

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