Health

Bipartisan senators fire warning shot against any cuts to Medicare Advantage

A bipartisan group of senators fired a warning shot against any attempts to cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans, dimming chances that Democrats could use revenue from any cuts to help fund a massive infrastructure package.

The group of 13 senators—including seven Democrats, five Republicans and one independent—wrote a letter Friday (PDF) to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure on building progress for the program. But the senators warned Brooks-LaSure of any cuts to the program.

“We stand ready to protect MA from payments cuts, which could lead to higher costs and premiums, reduce vital benefits and undermine advances made to improve health outcomes and health equity for MA enrollees,” the letter said.

The letter added that payment stability is critical to “protecting and strengthening this popular choice for seniors.”

Senators added that during the pandemic, MA is helping “seniors and individuals with disabilities by providing more care in the home through meal delivery, providing personal protective equipment, multifaceted beneficiary engagement, vaccine education and delivery services to underserved communities.”

The senators added that they are committed to working with CMS to make further progress on expanding MA coverage for the program’s more than 26 million beneficiaries.

RELATED: Commonwealth Fund: MA, traditional Medicare beneficiaries face similar barriers in access to care

The letter comes amid growing scrutiny over higher spending for MA compared to traditional Medicare and criticism over risk adjustment practices employed by insurers intended to increase payments from Medicare.

An analysis from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission released back in June also found that changing how MA plan payments are calculated could yield savings for Medicare.

The new findings come as Democrats are searching for pay-fors to lower the price tag of a major infrastructure package that includes expanding Medicare benefits to include dental, vision and hearing coverage.

But Democrats have little margin for error as they are aiming to pass the package via a procedural tool called reconciliation, which enables a budget bill to bypass a legislative filibuster and pass via a simple majority. Democrats have a 50-50 majority in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote and a three-vote majority in the House.

The strong support elicited by Democrats in the letter—including key centrists Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia—could make it difficult for Democrats to pursue changes to MA payments to help fund the package.

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