Members of Congress push back on Medicare Advantage cuts

More than 200 members of Congress are lobbying the Obama administration not to make cuts in a popular Medicare program that covers about 16 million seniors nationwide.

“We strongly believe that cuts to [Medicare Advantage] would be deeply unfair to millions of constituents,” a bipartisan group of 239 lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Thursday.

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Federal health officials announced last month that they planned to reduce rates by just under 1 percent next year for Medicare Advantage, which covers about one-third of Medicare beneficiaries.

While the drop is more modest than past years, the proposed cuts have again triggered a back-and-forth funding fight between lawmakers and the federal government. Fierce lobbying to protect the Medicare Advantage has so far been successful, with the government softening its rate hikes every year.

The CMS will finalize its payment rates in April.

Medicare Advantage is a program that runs on federal dollars but is managed by private healthcare providers. Doctors are reimbursed based on a risk-adjusted, per-person payment formula from Medicare that the government updates every year.

The new rate proposal announced in late February would decrease payments “modestly” by about 0.95 percent, said Sean Cavanaugh, deputy administrator and director of the CMS.

This year’s proposed rate reduction is less than last year’s 1.9 percent. That full cut never went into effect, however, after an aggressive lobbying effort by the medical industry.