GOP leaders to HHS: Call off Medicare changes

Republican Senate leaders criticized the Obama administration Tuesday for proposed changes to Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D they say would weaken the two programs.

Led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the lawmakers called on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suspend proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage and reforms in Part D that would allow regulators to participate in negotiations between insurance companies and pharmacies for the first time.

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"Unlike ObamaCare, the Medicare prescription drug benefit is wildly popular and it has cost less than initial projections," the letter stated.

"At a time when HHS is struggling on basic implementation tasks on many fronts, we cannot understand the logic behind the department's interest in further undermining one of the few success stories under its purview."

The administration argues that cuts in Medicare Advantage would reduce waste within the program and bring its per-patient funding in line with traditional Medicare, which currently receives less money on average.

In Part D, federal health officials say regulators need new authority to ensure the market for prescription drugs works well for seniors.

The proposed rules would also open drug plans' preferred networks to a wider range of pharmacies, limit plan bids within a region and remove "protected class" designations for certain types of drugs.

But Republicans say the changes will harm Medicare Advantage beneficiaries and potentially raise premiums on Part D plans or force seniors out of their current coverage.

Both issues are rearing their heads in the midterm elections, as the GOP seeks to broaden its healthcare attacks to include more than ObamaCare.

Tuesday's letter to Sebelius was signed by McConnell, GOP Whip John Cornyn (Texas), GOP Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), GOP Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.), Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (Mo.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (Kan.).