Congress Is Fighting Over the Medicare Advantage Cuts Both Parties Want

Cutting overpayments to Medicare Advantage, the private insurance option within Medicare, makes sense for the left and the right, and is something both parties have voted for. It also makes sense.

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Cutting overpayments to Medicare Advantage, the private insurance option within Medicare, makes sense for the left and the right, and is something both parties have voted for and supported. It also makes sense. But now Republicans are trying to paint the cuts as a bad hand for seniors dealt by Obamacare, while several Senate Democrats who voted for the cuts are now fighting against the cuts. It's hypocrisy on all sides, motivated by this year's elections.

Medicare Advantage is a private insurance option for seniors, funded by the government. As The Washington Post noted in 2009, it entices enrollees with freebies like gym memberships and blood pressure machines. Advantage was started because insurers promised they could treat seniors for less — but Advantage patients cost the government more than regular Medicare patients, and the government is getting ripped off. That's part of why the government proposed a 3.55 percent base payment cut last week.

For fiscal conservatives, this should be a good thing. Why is the government paying for an entitlement program that gives people free gym memberships? It's worth noting that the sequester cut provider payments by 2 percent, and Rep. Paul Ryan's own 2012 budget — a budget House Republicans voted for — left Obama's Medicare Advantage cuts in place, even as he and Mitt Romney criticized President Obama for cutting the program.

And Ryan's budget plan explains this Medicare Advantage hypocrisy perfectly. Both Ryan and Obama agree that Medicare Advantage should be cut. But Republicans want to, as Ryan put it then, "kee(p) that money for Medicare to extend its solvency," whereas Obama used those cuts to help fund Obamacare. Brian Beutler at Salon argued Wednesday that, actually, Republicans are more likely to use that money to enact their own pet projects, like "cutting rich people’s income taxes and increasing defense spending."

Either way, arguing that the Democrat's Medicare Advantage cuts are going to cost seniors their doctors is a little disingenuous. And yet, the Republican National Committee and two other groups released a statement blaming the left for a report (from insurers) that said insurers will pass Medicare cuts on to seniors, CNN reported. "Because of this drastic cut, seniors across the country will see their premiums rise, benefits shrink, and may lose access to the doctor they've known for years," they wrote.

That's not to say that Democrats haven't been equally hypocritical about the cuts. As The Daily Caller was quick to point out, 19 Senate Democrats signed on to defend Medicare Advantage payments, including red-state Sens. Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor, who voted to cut the payments in 2009. That's a fair point — at this point, years after the Affordable Care Act was passed, to now rise to the defense of the payments is equally disingenuous. It also doesn't make sense, given that these overpayments are basically corporate welfare. "It's a wasteful, inefficient program and always has been," Sen. John Rockefeller said at 2009 hearing, adding that the program is "stuffing money into the pockets of private insurers, and it doesn't provide any better benefits to anybody."

But then Landrieu and Pryor also sponsored a bill last year that would have let people keep their plan, before the Obama administration approved the move. Republicans, at least, are united in their disapproval of the Affordable Care Act — red-state Democrats have jumped ship from Obamacare whenever possible in the hopes of being re-elected this fall.

And that's what it all comes down to. Democrats and Republicans don't want to upset seniors, so even though cuts to Medicare Advantage payments make sense, they're politically contentious because seniors won't be happy. So the lesson for the rest of us is clear — if you feel like the government isn't invested in your demographics' issues, then you should vote. Senior citizens are, of course, reliable voters, and that's why both parties are perfectly willing to hypocritically bend over backwards to help them keep their free gym memberships — they'll probably be rewarded for it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.