“It is time to call out so-called Medicare Advantage for what it is,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. This statement underscores the growing concern among Democratic U.S. lawmakers about Medicare Advantage. This program, essentially private insurance, has been accused of profiting by denying coverage and using the name of Medicare to trick our seniors.
On July 25th, 2023, a press conference was held at Capitol Hill. The event saw the participation of senior citizens, people with disabilities, and healthcare campaigners. They joined forces with lawmakers to kick off a week of action. Their demand? That Congress move to stop abuses by Medicare Advantage programs peddled by profiteering insurance companies and “reclaim Medicare.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Standpoint
“We are here to raise the alarm about Medicare Advantage. We are here to protect our Medicare,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said to robust applause. She pointed out that for the first time, more than half of all beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage instead of traditional Medicare. This shift, she argued, needs to be revised. Medicare Advantage substitutes private insurance companies for traditional Medicare coverage, and private coverage is failing both Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers.
“It is all about the money,” Warren said. “Private insurers are in Medicare Advantage to play games to extract more money from the government.” She cited expert estimates that Medicare Advantage insurers will receive over $75 billion in overpayments this year alone. She said this is a “real punch to the gut.” Not only do these insurers rip off the government, but they also routinely deny care to patients who need it.
The Call for Better Medicare
“Seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare deserve better,” the senator affirmed. She proposed strengthening traditional Medicare. By doing so, we can save money and use some of those savings to expand benefits like hearing, dental, and vision. We can also add an out-of-pocket cap for all beneficiaries and lower the eligibility age for Medicare. “Medicare money should be spent to deliver services for people,” Warren added, “not to boost profits for insurance.”
Universal Healthcare Advocacy
Universal healthcare activist Ady Barkan, founder of the advocacy group Be a Hero, asserted that “healthcare is a human right, and Medicare should be a rock-solid guarantee to that fundamental right.” He called for mutual responsibility and solidarity in healthcare, standing against the greed often dominating the sector. “Health insurance corporations are doing everything they can to destroy this vision. That is why Be A Hero is leading this week of action to fight back,” he added.
The Fight Against Medicare Advantage
Like the lawmakers, Alex Lawson, executive director of the advocacy group Social Security Works, blasted “bad actors in Medicare Advantage,” who he said “are delaying and denying the care seniors and people with disabilities need.” He criticized corporate insurance for being designed to generate profits by delaying and denying care, harming and killing patients instead of providing care.
Patient Testimonies and Calls for Action
Among the patients who spoke at the event was Jen Coffey. She described the barriers she has faced while seeking lifesaving care for complex regional pain syndrome caused by breast cancer under a UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plan. Wendell Potter, who heads the Center for Health and Democracy, repeated the common refrain that “so-called Medicare Advantage is neither Medicare nor an advantage. It is simply another scheme by the insurance companies to line their pockets at the expense of consumers by denying and delaying care.”
Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, a registered nurse and president of the National Nurses United union, implored Congress “to take immediate action to prevent delays and denials of care in Medicare Advantage” and “support improvements to traditional Medicare and the expansion of traditional Medicare to cover every person living in the United States.”
Legislative Actions and Criticisms
Earlier this year, Democratic U.S. Reps Mark Pocan (Wis.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), and Ro Khanna (Calif.) reintroduced legislation that would prohibit insurance companies from using the word “Medicare” in their health plans. Progressive lawmakers have also criticized President Joe Biden for delaying promised curbs on Medicare Advantage plans amid heavy insurance industry lobbying.
What is Medicare Advantage?
Medicare Advantage is a type of health insurance plan in the U.S. that provides Medicare benefits through a private-sector health insurer rather than the government program.
Why are Democratic U.S. lawmakers concerned about Medicare Advantage?
They are concerned that Medicare Advantage, a private insurance, profits by denying coverage and using the name of Medicare to mislead seniors.
What is the proposed solution to the issues with Medicare Advantage?
Some lawmakers, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, propose strengthening traditional Medicare, expanding its benefits, adding an out-of-pocket cap for all beneficiaries, and lowering the eligibility age for Medicare.
What actions have been taken against Medicare Advantage?
Democratic U.S. Reps Mark Pocan, Jan Schakowsky, and Ro Khanna have reintroduced legislation prohibiting insurance companies from using the word “Medicare” in their health plans. There has also been criticism towards President Joe Biden for delaying promised curbs on Medicare Advantage plans.
What is the stance of universal healthcare advocates on this issue?
Advocates like Ady Barkan assert that healthcare is a human right and that Medicare should be a solid guarantee of that right. They criticize health insurance corporations for trying to undermine this vision.