Sen. Max Baucus, in an effort to push back against Republican criticisms that the Senate health care bill would cut Medicare benefits, just argued on the Senate floor that the claim was false because the $118 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage did not count.
“There are no benefit cuts,” Baucus said. “None. Now one could say that with the private plans, Medicare Advantage plans, which are vastly overpaid.”
He continued: “One could say that those private plans – it’s not Medicare – those private plans, Medicare Advantage – those aren’t Medicare plans.”
But a visit to Medicare.gov, the official website for the program, contradicts Baucus. While it’s true that the plans are quasi-private, they are still part of Medicare.
“Medicare Advantage Plans are health plan options that are part of the Medicare program,” the site, run by the Department of Health and Human services, reads. “If you join one of these plans, you generally get all your Medicare-covered health care through that plan.”
In actuality, 11 million Medicare beneficiaries — or one out of every four — are enrollees in a Medicare Advantage plan. If the program gets cut, those enrollees will lose benefits, and will be forced to purchase additional coverage elsewhere. Conveniently enough, this would be a boon to AARP, whose support Democrats have touted all through the week to immunize them from charges that they’re cutting Medicare. The group makes most of its money selling Medigap insurance policies, which would be in higher demand were Medicare Advantage gutted.
Baucus also argued that the $150 billion reduction in payments to hospitals and providers would not have any impact on beneficiaries. But we already know from the experience in Massachusetts, in which hospitals have sued the state, that lower reimbursement rates force hospitals to make budget cuts — including trimming staff — that ultimately affect service.
As I wrote earlier this week, I take issue with the way Republicans are demagoging the Medicare issue, because I do believe that we will have to cut Medicare benefits if we have any hope of averting a fiscal disaster. This is also a main reason why I oppose creating a massive new health care entitlement program. But at the same time, it’s absurd for Democrats to argue that their plans would not cut Medicare benefits.