Data undermine Medicare reform proposals

Results of an analysis by the Medicare Rights Center argue against Medicare reform proposals that would place a greater financial burden on beneficiaries. Instead, the Center's report recommends strengthening Medicare's low-income protections and prioritizing funding for consumer outreach and counseling to improve access to affordable healthcare coverage.

The report was based on trend analysis of more than 11,000 calls in 2012 to the Medicare Rights Center's helpline from beneficiaries or their representatives. The data exposed three top health and financial problems beneficiaries face, including worries about insurance affordability, transitioning into Medicare and appealing benefit payment denials.  

Many Medicare recipients need relief from the expense of premiums, deductibles, coinsurances and copayments, the Center noted. "Proposals to cut Medicare benefits or shift higher healthcare costs to these individuals ignore the widespread economic insecurity experienced by older adults and people with disabilities," the report stated.

The report criticizes financial remedies including taxing or prohibiting Medigap first-dollar coverage, basing premiums on further means testing, restructuring Medicare cost sharing, increasing drug copayments, adding home health copayments and raising the Medicare eligibility age. 

Proposed Medigap cost sharing increases would cause disproportionate harm to people with the greatest needs including half of all beneficiaries living on under $23,500 annually, the report found. These increases might force patients to self-ration or skip required healthcare, leading to spikes in emergency department or inpatient care later.  

Moreover, many of Medigap's 10 million enrollees have chronic health problems that are complex and costly to manage, according to an announcement from America's Health Insurance Plans, which called cost sharing on Medigap policyholders significantly burdensome.     

"Both Congress and the Administration should view this report as a call to action," said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, in its report announcement

"Now is the time to seek solutions that make Medicare a fairer, simpler and more affordable benefit."  

To learn more:
- read the Medicare Rights Center's announcement and report
- here's the AHIP announcement