About a year ago, insurance companies mobilized their sham grassroots group, the Coalition for Medicare Choices, to send letters to Congress and the Administration and pump big bucks in to studies, national advertising, and press releases noting that payment cuts would cause typical seniors with Medicare Advantage plans to see monthly premiums rise as much as $90—a claim the press did not investigate. In fact, press coverage was virtually nonexistent, and in the end the industry did not get a payment cut but a 3.3 percent raise from the government, which Politico called “one of the greatest political victories in recent memories.”Some seniors do have a stake in this, if their Medicare Advantage insurer shrinks physician networks in response to the cuts. But no senior is going to see a real cut in benefits, and what they will see is a more sustainable Medicare program, shored up by at least an additional decade by these savings. And who has a really big stake in this is the insurance companies. That's the story that doesn't get told enough. That and the fact that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has used the exact same Medicare savings in his budgets since 2011, and that almost every single Republican in the House has voted for those three budgets, with those Medicare cuts, every time.
This year, the Coalition for Medicare Choices again is hard at work using the same strategy and a national grassroots and advocacy campaign called “Seniors are Watching.” The industry’s trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), cites a new analysis by the firm Oliver Wyman (which prepared last year’s analysis) saying that those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans could face premium increases and benefit reductions of $35 to $75 a month—a claim that also needs to be examined. To help reach their goal of maintaining current payment levels for next year, AHIP has enlisted support from other groups such as the National Hispanic Medical Association and the Healthcare Leadership Council, an organization of chief executives of all the big players in healthcare (hospitals, academic medical centers, drug companies, bio tech firms) that have an interest in making sure Medicare beneficiaries have large benefits to pay for the products and services they sell.[...]
[It] is a good story—a political one that offers a chance again to explain the difference between cuts and savings, and examine the cross-subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. But there’s more. It’s also a story about the bottom lines of insurance companies who want to make sure Medicare Advantage plans are super attractive to seniors—meaning, low premiums and lots of benefits which extra government payments have historically paid for. Last year, John Wasik, writing for the now-defunct Medicare News group, noted that while the insurance industry prefers to focus on what “cuts” might cost seniors, the industry’s own financial interests would run something like $11 billion in 2014. This year the numbers may be different, but the back story is the same. Reporters need to put the talking points in context and honestly explain to seniors what’s at stake for them.
The primary story, though, mostly likely will be what Republicans say: "Medicare cuts." That will be reinforced for seniors with astroturfed messages from the Coalition for Medicare Choices, telling them that these Obamacare cuts are going to harm them. The lie is a lot easier to tell than to debunk, but it's the traditional media's job to try.