Rep. Gingrey: Seniors Will Lose Doctors as Medicare Advantage 'Under Attack' by Obamacare

Thursday, 05 Dec 2013 09:14 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Obamacare cuts to Medicare Advantage are putting the program "under attack" and may force many seniors to change their doctors, Republicans argued at a House committee hearing Wednesday.

"It's clear the Medicare Advantage program is under attack and these beneficiaries are beginning to feel the effect of more than $300 billion in direct and indirect cuts under Obamacare," said Georgia Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, during the House Energy Health and Commerce Committee hearing, reports The Washington Examiner.

"Individuals are losing coverage that they are happy with and the doctors with whom they are comfortable with, and this is a tragedy," added Gingrey, a physician.

But Democrats at the meeting argued that the cuts will preserve the program and improve it by offering free check-ups and other new and less expensive benefits.

A Kaiser Family Foundation report says that around 500,000 seniors will have to switch their health plans and be forced to switch doctors because of cuts to managed care programs in 2014.

But Democrats accused Republicans of "fear-mongering."

"The Republicans basically think the Affordable Care Act is the end of the world," said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, the committee's ranking Democrat.

Obamacare will cut some $716 billion from the entire Medicare program over the next 10 years, with $308 million in cuts coming just from the Medicare Advantage managed care program.

More than one-quarter of all Medicare users are enrolled.

In 2010, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that cuts to Medicare Advantage cut enrollment up to 50 percent after the government terminates its contracts with doctors, forcing seniors back to traditional Medicare.

For example, in New York, where UnitedHealthcare cut 2,100 doctors from the Medicare Advantage program, around 8,000 patients had to find new doctors.

Republicans on Wednesday said the changes are a violation of President Barack Obama's promise that nobody would lose their doctors or insurance under Obamacare.

But Joe Baker, president of the Democratic-leaning Medicare Rights Center, said the savings "are producing positive returns for the Medicare program overall, benefitting both current and future beneficiaries," and argued that Medicare Advantage enrollees "have too many choices" in health care plans and would benefit if the options were narrowed.

American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an Obamacare critic, said most Medicare Advantage recipients are low-income seniors living in rural areas, meaning they'll have less access to benefits and care, reports The Daily Caller.

"Much of Medicare Advantage's value is based on the plan's ability to innovate and offer needed additional benefits," Holtz-Eakin said, "both of which are compromised in the face of large payment rate cuts."

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