Warren Throckmorton

Medicare, the nation’s health insurance program for disabled and elderly persons, turned 44 this week. The President and many Democrats want to make changes to the aging program as a part of health care reform. For instance, President Obama told the American Association of Retired Persons on July 28 that he wants to eliminate 177 billion in subsidies to the popular Medicare Advantage programs.

Although the President told the AARP, “nobody is talking about trying to change Medicare benefits,” many senior citizens are worried. And those who are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans may have reason to worry. Although Mr. Obama considers Medicare Advantage an example of wasteful spending, the plans are popular with seniors because they offer benefits and care coordination which basic Medicare plans do not provide.

Some physicians and health plans are nervous as well.

For instance, this week, Dr. Mark Hoffing of Palm Springs, California, led a delegation of elderly patients to the capital for some citizen lobbying. They presented 10,000 signatures to legislators in an attempt to persuade them to leave Medicare Advantage plans intact.

Truly, Medicare Advantage plans are popular. According to John O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Clinical and Administrative Sciences, College of Notre Dame School of Pharmacy, the proposed cuts are “a step backward” and would undermine plans which seniors appreciate.

"Medicare Advantage plans are innovative health insurance products that have led the way in patient-centered care; 97 percent of MA enrollees are happy with the affordability and access their plan provides,” O’Brien explained.

According to a CBS News report, the President also told the AARP that reform “would put more focus on prevention and wellness efforts and incentivizing quality of care rather than quantity. That's what health care reform will mean to folks on Medicare."

Ironically, that is what Medicare Advantage plans are designed to do now. Basic Medicare covers outpatient, inpatient and some prescription costs, but there are significant gaps. Using federal funds, Medicare Advantage allows private insurers to manage the basic Medicare benefits plus provide additional services that Medicare does not cover, such as wellness services, dental care, hearing and vision screening. Most Medicare Advantage plans also provide prescription drug options which are often easier to use and understand than the basic Medicare, Part D coverage.

Warren Throckmorton

Warren Throckmorton, PhD is an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College and fellow for psychology and public policy with the Center for Vision & Values.