WASHINGTON – Seventy-nine year old Carol Berman’s cherry-red earrings and coat stand out against her shock-white hair, a bright contrast to the gray Health and Human Services Building behind her as she greets passersby Monday morning with cookies and coffee .
“I am here in Washington standing on a corner when I could be warm in Florida,” Berman said, “because I want to tell people about Medicare Advantage.”
Berman is a member of the Coalition For Medicare Choices, a group of 1.8 million seniors that supports Medicare Advantage, a form of Medicare that provides seniors health coverage, prescription and additional benefits such as gym memberships. According to Sourcewatch, a nonprofit that follows influence groups, the Coalition For Medicare Choices is funded by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group for health care providers. Health care companies have opposed the Affordable Care Act because it would shift resources away from private companies to reduce costs of Medicare Advantage.
Those potential cuts have Berman and others in the coalition worried. They brought a food truck to the streets of Washington Monday, parking in multiple locations around the city to inform people about the program.
Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, is a subset of Medicare that provides seniors care through private insurers, as opposed to Parts A and B, which are administered directly by the federal government. As of 2014, 15.7 million Americans were enrolled in Medicare Advantage, accounting for 30 percent of all seniors using Medicare.
Reporting done by the Center for Public Integrity has found that Medicare Advantage has cost taxpayers billions of dollars in fraudulent payments. Under Medicare Advantage, private insurers are paid based on risk scores that assess the health of individual patients. Between 2008 and 2013, overbillings based on inflated risk scores cost taxpayers nearly $70 billion.
A study from the Commonwealth Fund, a health care research group, also found that Medicare Advantage members are less satisfied with their coverage than regular members. They found that 15 percent of Medicare Advantage members reported their coverage as fair or poor, compared to just 6 percent of regular Medicare members.
Nevertheless, other Medicare Advantage users have expressed satisfaction with their care. Pat Young, who traveled to Washington from Salem, Oregon,. in support of Medicare Advantage, said that preventive care helped her fight osteopenia, or reduced bone density, saving her money and keeping her out of the hospital.
“That three years working out is cheaper than one year in the hospital,” Young said.
Before the Affordable Care Act, the federal government provided additional subsidies for Medicare Advantage patients that amounted to approximately $1,100 per patient each year. The Affordable Care Act aims to reduce the subsidies provided for each patient, gradually bringing the cost of Medicare Advantage in line with the rest of the program.
Last April, the Obama administration delayed planned cuts to Medicare Advantage for 2015, with funding increasing by about half of 1 percent as opposed to the proposed 1.9 percent cut. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced a proposed nearly 1 percent payment cut for 2016, in response to private insurers failing to keep their costs down.
The Coalition’s presence in Washington suggests that these seniors are willing to fight for their coverage. With older voters turning out to vote in bigger numbers than younger Americans, issues like Medicare will remain important for politicians to win the senior vote.
“Members of Congress have to know that seniors vote,” Berman said. “We have time to worry about it, so we have to be the voice of the seniors.”