Monday, October 18th, 2010
All kinds of frightening claims are being made about Medicare Advantage right now in news stories, campaign ads, and direct mail campaigns.
For example, a group calling itself the 60 Plus Association is running campaign ads all over the country against many Democrat incumbents running for office right now. And many of these ads are using misleading information about Medicare and Medicare Advantage to smear the Democrat in question. For example, ads say that the Democratic candidate supported “gutting Medicare by $500 billion” or voted to reduce benefits.
If you have seen or heard ads making these claims, don’t believe them. The alleged $500 billion gutting has been debunked by FactCheck.org and Politifact. The ads claiming that benefits will be cut say the information comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation. But according to Greg Sargent of WashingtonPost.com, the Kaiser Family Foundation denies it said any such thing. And the so-called 60-Plus Association appears to be a front for the pharmaceutical industry.
There have been stories claiming that Medicare Advantage insurance providers are dropping coverage because of the new health care reform law. Most of the time, it turns out the providers are dropping only their fee-for-service policies, which will no longer be subsidized after the end of this year.
But this change did not come about because of health care reform, but because of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA), passed back in 2008. The fee-for-service plans do not control costs nearly as well as plans that work with networks, such as HMOs, and Congress decided they were a waste of taxpayer money. Most Medicare Advantage plans are not affected by the MIPPA.
Watch out for scams in the mail. Insurers offering Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans must mail their Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) to policy holders before the end of October. But some seniors recently have been receiving mail that looks as if it comes from Medicare, but isn’t. Seniors who respond to the mail (thinking they must do so to continue to receive Medicare Advantage) are contacted by sales people.
It’s important for Medicare Advantage policy holders to pay attention to their real ANOC mail, to see if their policies will change. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, most Medicare Advantage patients will find only a moderate increase — about $2 a month — in the cost of their plans next year. “Most” is not the same thing as “all,” of course, and some plans may have bigger cost increases. Fortunately, most seniors can still find several other Medicare Advantage plans offered in their areas.
However, there is another kind of change that will probably catch many seniors unaware — the open enrollment period ends on December 31, not March 31 as in the past. Seniors who want to change to a different Medicare Advantage plan must do so by the end of this year.