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Op-ed: Medicare Advantage works; don't cut funding

Published February 19, 2014 4:28 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By William H. Finney

Prior to retiring, I worked for many years serving the residents of Salt Lake County. I prided myself in providing a service that I wanted to receive. My colleagues and I spent countless hours ensuring the programs we delivered were successful by meeting the needs of those we served.

Government services are not free; successful programs should be continued without service cuts, and satisfied constituents should be the goal of every program.

Unfortunately, someone needs to tell that to our federal friends at the Center for Medicare Services (CMS). Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, it seems like each year those of us who subscribe to Medicare Advantage have to fend off program cuts and tax increases. And 2014 is no different.

Medicare Advantage (MA) is a very important program to Utah seniors. Utah is one of 10 states in which more than 33 percent of all seniors eligible are enrolled. More than 40 percent of MA subscribers earn less than $20,000 and nearly 20 percent are minorities.

I have been enrolled in MA for the past 11 years. MA is a very successful Medicare program. You can take my word for it, or you can look at a number of recent studies.

A 2013 study published in Health America found that MA plans' performance measures for cancer screenings, diabetes care and cholesterol testing were consistently better than other Medicare programs. A recent study published in the American Journal of Managed Care found that MA plans had a readmission rate between 13 percent to 20 percent lower than other Medicare programs. Finally, a 2012 edition of Health Affairs found that beneficiaries with diabetes had 9 percent lower hospital admission rates; 19 percent fewer hospital days and 28 percent fewer hospital readmissions compared to FFS Medicare.

Moreover, MA plans provide for extra benefits and services — primarily preventive maintenance programs — not included in the Medicare FFS programs. We are able to receive case and disease management programs and services. We are able to control our personal health records to allow us to better coordinate our medical information.

I like my MA coverage, and I am not alone. A 2013 survey of MA subscribers conducted by North Star Opinion Research found that 90 percent of all seniors are satisfied with their MA plan.

Now, in 2014, my fellow MA subscribers and I have to worry about what CMS is about to do. Based on the Affordable Care Act and CMS decisions, we are faced with $20 billion in funding cuts this year alone — and $200 billion over the next 10 years. If this were not enough, we are facing a $100 billion health insurance tax over the next 10 years. Budget cuts and tax increases will increase our MA costs and reduce our benefits.

I have known Orrin Hatch well before he was elected to the Senate. I have rarely agreed with his politics, but I must admit he has been very supportive of my MA plan and retirees. One year ago, Sen. Hatch sent two letters – one he worked with Sen. Patrick Leahy to CMS on our behalf to fight program reductions. Thank you, Sen. Hatch, for fighting for us.

Please, CMS, do not reduce our benefits and increase our costs.

William H. Finney, now retired, worked in several capacities for Salt Lake County.