President’s Forum 143 – New Congress, New NRLN Legislative Agenda

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Bloomberg News reported on January 24 that health insurers are again circulating letters among members of Congress to marshal support for Medicare Advantage (MA), a program where private companies covered seniors’ healthcare with the help of $53 billion in taxpayer rebates in 2022. The Medicare Pricing Policy Committee (MedPAC) reported $57 billion. You may recall that in 2017, I referred to MA plans as Congress’ Trojan Horse, sent to Privatize Medicare. Some scoffed at that prediction then rebates were $20 billion.

The MedPAC’s January 12 report reveals that 2023 rebates to buy more enhanced benefits and to pay more MA premiums will be 20% higher, from $164 per month in 2022 to $196 per month in 2023. It is outrageous that Congress would pay $2,352 a year more for Medicare A & B benefits to insurance companies. These benefits are for 31.9 million in MA plans only but 29.4 million others in original Medicare are denied the same benefits that TV ads call “free”. About 15% of rebate money is kept by insurers to cover overhead and profit.

This year, that $196 will amount to over $75 billion! That’s over $200 million a day from general revenue and part of every nickel we pay in federal income tax, weekly, monthly, quarterly or on April 15, that is handed over to insurance companies. MedPAC reported that MA plans will control 52% of the Medicare market in 2023. I hope you will help us kill that Trojan Horse yet protect those in MA plans from losing what they have.

A year ago, 339 U.S. Representatives (80% of House members) and 63 U.S. Senators (63% of Senate members) signed letters to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) supporting MA. What is unfortunate is that members of Congress will not pass legislation to provide original Medicare enrollees the same special benefits that MA plans provide, such as dental, vision, hearing and more. The NRLN supports competition, but this is a rigged game. It’s time for Congress to stop rebates and tell insurers to compete on a level playing field – privatization has failed. This applies to MAs, ACOs, DCEs and new in 2023, ACO REACHs.

According to the Bloomberg article, the lobbying effort to gain lawmakers’ signatures on letters in support of MA is for the first time facing organized opposition. The NRLN has been pointing out to members of Congress for several years that MA plans have never been as cost effective as original Medicare.

The NRLN has voiced concerns that MA plans are an attempt to privatize Medicare. And beginning this year ACO REACH is an effort to put Wall Street investors in control of healthcare for seniors.

Diane Archer, founder of JustCare, an advocacy organization for older adults, was quoted in the article: “We need to make sure every member [of Congress] understands if they sign onto this letter, they’re blindly supporting a program that is ripping off taxpayers and compromising care for many who need it.

Archer, along with Wendell Potter, an outspoken former insurance company executive who founded the Center for Health and Democracy, have been personally lobbying lawmakers not to sign the letter, which is now circulating among members of Congress and is typically sent to the head of CMS in late January or early February.

Archer and Potter say the insurance industry is painting the program with too broad a brush, allowing bad actors to sell seniors insurance plans that might not have coverage for their preferred doctors or sufficient coverage for needed services if they get sick.

Archer joined Jim Bodenner, President, NRLN Villages Chapter, and me for a video podcast on Wall Street’s Takeover of Medicare on January 8, 2022.

Watch for an NRLN Action Alert soon to Congress on this issue. Part of the NRLN lobbying agenda on Capitol Hill during our February 27 – March 1 Fly-in to Washington, DC will be on the excessive cost of MA to taxpayers and the discrimination against original Medicare enrollees on special benefits. We will also point out the members of Congress who signed the support letters for MA in 2022.

Bill Kadereit, President
National Retiree Legislative Network

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