Protecting access to quality affordable care for seniors

Shortly after President Obama was sworn into office last year, leaders in Washington began to discuss how to reform our healthcare system. Many ideas were exchanged, some I agreed with while some I did not support. Like most Americans, I understood our healthcare system is unsustainable and we need to work in a commonsense way to reform it.

However, unlike leaders in Washington, I thought we should be fixing what’s broken, not breaking what works, and one great example of the difference in this mentality is with regard to healthcare for seniors.

Last year I traveled around my district in Western New York to discuss the best ways to reform our health care system. I spoke with doctors, nurses, patients, hospitals, you name it. The majority of those I spoke with understood there must be some shared sacrifice to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for all. However, as more and more reports are released by the various agencies and offices tasked with analyzing the new healthcare law, it’s becoming clearer than ever the healthcare law will be paid for on the backs of our nation’s seniors.

One way seniors are paying the bill for the health care law is by cuts to popular – and effective – seniors programs such as Medicare Advantage. 

I hear all the time from seniors who are enrolled in Medicare Advantage programs that the plans meet their needs at a cost they can afford. Unlike traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage programs offer comprehensive coverage – including prescription drugs and preventive, dental and vision care – at lower out-of-pocket costs.

About 11 million seniors nationwide have chosen Medicare Advantage to provide their healthcare coverage. Medicare Advantage has become so popular with seniors because it offers comprehensive, coordinated benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs than traditional Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans have become especially popular in Western New York and rural areas where access to health care can be sparse. 

In 2006, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that Medicare Advantage enrollees saved about $82 a month on average, compared to beneficiaries in traditional Medicare. In addition, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, seniors using Medicare Advantage have lower hospital readmission rates as a result of better discharge planning and follow-up care. Medicare Advantage has proven to be an effective program and a cost saver, something Congress should embrace.
However, the healthcare law calls for cuts to Medicare Advantage of over 50 percent nationwide. Why eliminate a program that is working – and working well – for 11 million of our nation’s seniors?
Making matters worse is the fact that many seniors don’t even know these cuts are coming – and their coverage is being dropped – because they’ve been told that “if you like your coverage, you can keep it.”
During a recent televised town hall meeting, President Obama was quoted saying; "Your guaranteed benefits will not change. Eligibility won't change. Medicare will continue to cover your costs the way it always has. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor." Unfortunately, this statement runs contrary to a recent report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that states the new health care bill will cut $523 billion from Medicare programs once the bill is fully implemented.

Additionally, in an effort to bring relief to seniors who lack Medicare coverage due to the so called “doughnut hole,” the Obama administration recently mailed out a one-time $250 rebate check to seniors across the country. At that time, the program’s catastrophic coverage will again pay for much of the cost of the beneficiaries’ prescriptions.

Sadly, many seniors will not be able to afford to purchase their prescription drugs, with or without this rebate, and although leaders in Washington tout these rebate checks as aid to struggling seniors, more than 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will not receive a prescription drug rebate check this summer.

Instead of working to fix what’s broken for America’s seniors, leaders in Washington are breaking what works. 

There are ways to increase accessibility and affordability of health care for all generations of Americans, and this should have been their goal. This is what the majority of Americans that I spoke with were asking for, and this is what they deserved. Instead, leaders in Washington decided to fund health care reform on the backs of our nation’s seniors. That’s not what the doctor ordered.

 Rep. Christopher Lee (R-N.Y.) is a member of the Financial Services Committee