Vulnerable lawmakers look for cover on Medicare Advantage

A bipartisan duo of House members facing difficult election fights this cycle issued a letter to House GOP and Democratic leadership Thursday defending Medicare Advantage.

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Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), a perennial Republican target, spearheaded the letter, which was sent to the offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The letter urges the leaders to oppose any further cuts to the Medicare Advantage program, noting the program is already facing $25.4 billion in cuts in 2014.

"Medicare Advantage beneficiaries should not be forced to shoulder any further funding cuts to the program. We respectfully ask you to join us in working to protect the seniors and individuals with disabilities who are enrolled in MA plans from additional cuts," they write.

Republicans have long criticized ObamaCare for a provision that cuts more than $200 billion in Medicare Advantage rates over the next 10 years to pay for the law.

A House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee charged in an analysis released this week that ObamaCare is "raiding" the program.

The letter, the lawmakers say, was inspired by a concern that cuts to the program would be included in budget negotiations.

"Leaders on both sides of the aisle are standing up for our seniors and saying this is unacceptable. During budget negotiations, we urge Leadership to keep in mind the 14 million seniors who depend on Medicare Advantage," Cassidy said in a release.

Cassidy and Barrow have worked to defend the program for years, and their efforts traditionally gain strong bipartisan support. There's no indication, however, budget negotiators are planning to cut the program.

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see political opportunity in defending the popular program.

Eighty-one additional lawmakers signed onto the letter, many of them either Senate candidates, like Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), or vulnerable House incumbents, like Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter knocked the letter as a distraction.

“This is a embarrassing attempt by Cassidy to hide his support for cutting Medicare benefits for seniors," he said.

--This piece was corrected at 8:20 a.m. to reflect Cassidy and Barrow's history on Medicare Advantage.