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Seniors can trust President-Elect Biden on Medicare

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I have known President-elect Biden for many years, from my time in the Pennsylvania state Senate to my decade in Congress. We campaigned together. We were fellow travelers on Amtrak. We spent time together in small gatherings and large crowds. He is the same person you have seen on the campaign trail; present in the moment, listening, and taking in the stories of others’ experiences that have led him to craft big policies and push them over the finish line. He always knew the direction he was heading and was open to getting there in ways that brought people with different views together.

As we watch the president-elect choose his Cabinet nominees, we see people of talent and experience, as diverse as the nation itself. The emerging picture of his administration is one of competent governing that can move our nation forward with a strong vision for the future.

In every sector, there are questions on the varied issues the Biden administration will face. We know the administration will want to rebuild the economy with opportunity for those looking to do better. We know he will strive to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and make health coverage more affordable. Yet, a question I am asked regularly is what will President-elect Biden do with Medicare and, specifically, Medicare Advantage?

This question is vitally important for the more than 62 million Americans enrolled in Medicare today, including over 40 percent who have chosen the public-private partnership of Medicare Advantage. Moreover, it is important to the providers and payers who have made tremendous progress in modernizing Medicare to meet the needs of today’s beneficiaries. They want to know: can we trust the incoming administration to continue this progress; ensuring continuity for millions of older Americans? I believe we can.

First and foremost, however, the incoming administration will have to tackle the coronavirus with access to testing, care, and vaccines people can trust. This is an essential task for the health and wellbeing of all Americans and for our economic future.

Second, President-elect Biden has made clear that he aims to build on the Affordable Care Act with wider coverage and more robust subsidies to make health insurance more meaningful and more affordable. He will likely look for ways to extend Medicaid to those who are denied it today because of the state in which they reside and will seek to address the injustice of racial disparities in health care.

Third, the president-elect should protect Medicare — both the option of Traditional Fee-for-Service Medicare and Medicare Advantage. The challenge will be to balance the cost of new benefits with the limitations of a system that is hard to change. Doing this at a time when the Medicare Trust Fund already faces solvency challenges will be difficult at best.

As the Biden administration works to improve Medicare, I expect it will follow Democrat and Republican administrations before it in supporting and encouraging Medicare Advantage. This coverage option will be critically important to meeting President-elect Biden’s goals of more affordable coverage, high quality care, and additional benefits for the consumer.

Medicare Advantage was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, then called “Medicare Plus Choice.” It changed the payment structure and incentives from Traditional Medicare’s emphasis on the volume of services rendered, to one that put health outcomes first by paying Medicare Advantage providers to take care of all a beneficiary’s needs.

The Obama administration touted Medicare Advantage’s “better benefits, higher quality care and lower costs” and presided over four straight years of decreases in Medicare Advantage average monthly premiums. The Affordable Care Act brought government spending for Medicare Advantage in line with Traditional Medicare and strengthened accountability measures for quality; offering financial incentives for better outcomes.

Medicare Advantage continues to grow, buoyed by seniors in blue states and red states alike who benefit from its average annual savings of nearly $1,600 compared to Traditional Medicare and give the program a 99 percent satisfaction rate.

There is increasing bipartisan support for Medicare Advantage as demonstrated by a supermajority of more than 400 members of the U.S. House and Senate who stood up for this option because it is important to their constituents.

Medicare is a promise that Americans believe in. They know it must be protected and strengthened for the future — a task that means acknowledging the success of Medicare Advantage and continuing its role in the fabric of Medicare’s proud legacy.

Building on the promise of Medicare is a pledge that President-elect Biden has made and one that I believe we can count on him to keep.

Allyson Y. Schwartz is president and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance. She represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2015.

Tags Bill Clinton Medicare Advantage
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