Many MA plans, for instance, offer dental and eye care — benefits which traditional Medicare doesn't cover. Those extra benefits have made MA plans enormously popular in recent years — about 25 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are now enrolled — but the transition hasn't come cheap: It costs about 14 percent more to cover MA patients than those in traditional Medicare. That's a far cry from the savings to the program promised by the insurance industry when MA was enacted in 2003.
In response to the cost discrepancy, the Democrats' reform law scales back MA subsidies, reasoning that the extra money is simply going to pad the profits of private insurers. Still, the reduction in MA payments could move those same companies to scale back extra benefits to seniors rather than asking shareholders to take the hit.
It's the threat to these extra benefits that caused FactCheck.org to slam the Andy Griffith commercial.
"It may sound to the casual listener as though this ad is saying that the benefits of all Medicare recipients are guaranteed to stay the same — and that may well be the way the ad’s sponsors wish listeners to hear it," Brooks said. "But what the administration is really saying is that only those benefits that are guaranteed in law will remain the same."
Jackson declined to mention the additional 14 percent cost is spread out over the entire Medicare population, not just those enrolled in MA plans (meaning that 75 percent of seniors are subsidizing extra benefits for the other 25 percent).
The White House has acknowledged that some MA benefits will probably be lost.
"I’m sure that some of those additional benefits have been nice," Nancy-Ann DeParle, head of the White House Office of Health Reform, told the Wall Street Journal last month. "But I think what we have to look at here is what’s fair and what’s important for the strength of the Medicare program long term."