Nelson: Don't penalize seniors
September 29, 2009
By Bill Nelson
The debate over Medicare Advantage misses a key point. It's not so much the extras, such as gym memberships, vision and dental care, that drew more than 10 million seniors to the plans. It's the affordable deductibles, co-pays and other such out-of-pocket expenses.
Traditional Medicare is an outstanding and vital program. But many beneficiaries, to avoid going into debt or wiping out their savings during medical emergencies, must supplement their Medicare coverage with a costly Medigap policy or join a more comprehensive Medicare Advantage plan.
That's why it's wrong to suggest seniors will only lose a few extras if Congress imposes big cuts. While I strongly oppose cutting these benefits, I can't dispute that Medicare Advantage is too loosely subsidized. In 2003, I voted against creating Medicare Advantage. I still think it needs to be reined in.
But I agree with President Obama: If you like your current health plan, you should be able to keep it. And shouldn't that principle apply to millions of seniors who signed up in good faith for Medicare Advantage, including nearly 1 million in my state of Florida?
Yet under several proposals before Congress, many seniors in Medicare Advantage would experience higher costs and fewer substantive benefits. In fact, they'd be the only ones guaranteed to lose out.
We can change options for those who sign up in the future, better police these plans or, perhaps, even let Medicare take them over.
But we should not take away benefits from millions of seniors currently enrolled. For those on fixed incomes and tight budgets, these benefits matter, especially when their savings already have been hard hit.
This is why I am proposing an amendment to protect seniors by grandfathering in existing beneficiaries of Medicare Advantage. My proposal would affect only providers that bid under current fee-for-service reimbursement rates.
We need to hold insurance companies accountable. We need to make Medicare Advantage more efficient. And, we need comprehensive health care reform.
But we can't reach these goals on the backs of seniors. They stand to lose more than just a few extra benefits.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is currently debating a key health reform bill.