Don't Pit Children Against Seniors

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A House bill would fund expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by stripping funds from the Medicare Advantage program, on the theory that health plans providing comprehensive protection for seniors are overpaid.

The Post's editorial board apparently agrees, arguing in the Aug. 21 editorial "Undue Advantage" that insurers who advocated a "level playing field" in 1999 -- when plans were being reimbursed less than other Medicare providers -- should be held to the same standard today, when they're being paid more. But that distorts the facts.

In 1999, health-care costs were rising 10 to 12 percent annually, but plans were receiving 2 percent reimbursement increases. Congress, recognizing that low region-based reimbursement rates effectively barred millions of Americans in mid-size cities, small towns and rural areas from access to Medicare Advantage, corrected that inequity in 2000.

Today, Medicare Advantage plans offer choices to millions of seniors who would otherwise be forced to stay under traditional Medicare, with its many coverage gaps and high out-of-pocket costs. The push to cut reimbursements ignores the value not only of the added benefits but also of bringing coverage choices to more areas, as Congress mandated in 2000. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that 3 million seniors -- mostly rural Americans -- will lose their Medicare Advantage coverage altogether if the House bill becomes law.

There's no justification for pitting children against seniors. The Senate would fund SCHIP by raising the tobacco tax -- a fair and balanced approach.

KAREN M. IGNAGNI

President and Chief Executive

America's Health Insurance Plans

Washington


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