The recently passed “Chronic Care Act” provides for some additional benefits for seniors in Medicare Advantage. Although it includes some seemingly fine items such as transportation to outpatient care, some home health care, and a few other enhancements of the program, America’s elderly should be very leery of this legislation. Because the new benefits under this act are accorded only to beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage, it is another step toward privatization of Medicare, which will not be an advantage to seniors in long run.
Overt proposals to privatize Medicare through some form of voucher system have failed so far and are not likely to succeed in the immediate future. So, dangling goodies in front of beneficiaries in attempts to move them into Medicare Advantage is one way to accomplish the goal of ending traditional Medicare (which is efficiently and effectively administered by the government) and turn every part of the program over to the insurance industry.
As it is now, Medicare Advantage has appeal to beneficiaries with fewer medical needs. Insurance companies can “cherry pick” their customers. This leaves beneficiaries with the greatest amount of illness in traditional Medicare, thereby weakening it. Because of the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003 – a major move toward privatization – Medicare Advantage HMOs are paid a premium and thereby take more of our Medicare dollars than traditional Medicare.
So, who, other than insurance companies, have been pushing for this legislation? It might surprise you to know that liberal Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon and conservative Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia were major players in bringing it to fruition. But Senator Wyden’s role in this privatization scheme doesn’t surprise me. In the Fall of 2013, as a board member of the Gray Panthers, I was attending a meeting in Washington, D.C. As chance would have it, the press reported during that time that Senator Wyden and Congressman Paul Ryan had floated a proposal for voucherizing Medicare.
The Gray Panthers and Senator Wyden had a close relationship. Indeed, he was a friend of Maggie Kuhn and considered himself one of us. Consequently, Judy Lear, president of the Gray Panthers at that time, and myself were able to immediately see the senator in his office. It is rare for advocates in Washington, without lots of money, to have an opportunity to work directly with a senator. We did work with him and his staff over the next few months and convinced him to drop the idea. However, we didn’t know then and don’t now know now what sort of Washington machinations led Senator Wyden down the privatization path. But it appears as if he is still on it.
Unfortunately, the Gray Panthers’ office in Washington, D.C. became defunct in 2015. Consequently, seniors in the United States have no militant representative in Washington.
Some nonprofits holding themselves out as representatives and advocates of older people are ardent supporters of the Chronic Care Act. However, organizations such as the AARP, the SCAN Foundation, and LeadingAge have serious ethical conflicts. They are vendors in the business of selling insurance, operating continuing care retirement communities, or lobbying for those who run enterprises marketing their goods and services to the elderly. Furthermore, the powerful insurance industry and the ride share company Lyft have been potent forces behind the legislation.
It may seem like congress, by passing the Chronic Care Act, did something nice for senior citizens. However, it is important to pull the curtain back and look at all the gears and pulleys moving things about. If traditional Medicare goes away, we will all be at the mercy of insurance companies, their purveyors in the nonprofit world, and lobbyists with gobs of cash to spread around.