GOP trains fire on Medicare Advantage cuts

Republicans are redoubling their effort to halt future cuts to private Medicare plans under the Affordable Care Act, arguing the reductions would harm vulnerable seniors.

In a letter Monday, GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged the Obama administration not to implement further Medicare Advantage cuts ordered by the healthcare law.

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The back-and-forth began last month, after the administration chose to reverse a proposed payment cut to Medicare Advantage for the second year in a row, a triumph for insurers and the GOP.

Instead of following through on a 1.9 percent proposed cut, regulators announced they would boost payments to Medicare Advantage plans by 0.4 percent on average in 2015.

In Monday's letter, GOP lawmakers argued the reversal was not enough because some plans will still experience reductions.

"So far, the full brunt of [ObamaCare's] cuts to Medicare Advantage has yet to be felt," the members wrote.

"But even if, each year in the future, [Medicare] utilizes every possible legal, regulatory, and administrative measure at its disposal, millions of seniors will be negatively affected."

The lawmakers asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to estimate how many Medicare Advantage policyholders would face higher out-of-pocket costs or fewer plan choices in 2017.

The letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner also sought to gauge support for withdrawing the Medicare Advantage cuts altogether.

The Affordable Care Act orders reductions in government payments to Medicare Advantage, a program that currently receives higher reimbursements on average per beneficiary compared with traditional Medicare.

Democrats argue the cuts are necessary to ensure beneficiaries in traditional Medicare get a fair shake.

Republicans argue the cuts will harm seniors currently enrolled in Medicare Advantage, some of whom receive fringe benefits like eyeglasses and gym memberships.