GOP criticizes looming Medicare Advantage cuts

Republicans are highlighting cuts to the popular Medicare Advantage program ahead of this fall’s midterm elections.

The cuts are required under the new healthcare law, which says the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must reduce its reimbursements to private health plans. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this will involve more than $300 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage through 2023.

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Republicans implied the administration is “masking” the cuts right now to prevent them from angering voters in an election year by increasing bonuses to a growing number of plan providers this year.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, at a Thursday hearing said people will really feel the pain of the cuts next year.

“The difficult reality is 2015 is now upon us and millions of seniors who rely on the Medicare Advantage program may be in jeopardy of losing their plan, their doctor, and the financial protection and benefits they have chosen,” he said.

Medicare Advantage provides more services than traditional Medicare programs through private insurance providers. Brady argued the plans are particularly popular with low income and minority seniors.

Three panelists at the hearing representing insurance and physician groups and a conservative think-tank warned insurers are being forced to cut coverage or pull out of regions altogether because of the impending cuts.

However, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), the subcommittee's ranking member, called them “harbingers of disaster” and insisted the cuts in question have been happening since 2011 without hurting seniors.

He said the Medicare Advantage program had actually improved access to healthcare and reduced costs. He noted the program has grown to include 16 million seniors.