Ballyhooing Medicare

The Department of Health and Human Services tries to help a lame dog run.

In an expensive, multi-faceted campaign, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is trying mightily to convince senior citizens that ObamaCare is full of “exciting new changes to improve your health care now and in the future.” HHS Secretary Sebelius has fretted, “We have a lot of re-education to do.”

The “re-education” campaign to change minds and sell Medicare and ObamaCare to highly skeptical seniors started last summer when HHS sent out a slick, four-color, four-page folder mailed first class to 40 million households with Medicare recipients. In that pitch, Sebelius claimed, “The Affordable Health Care Act (as it is erroneously but formally called) will provide you and your family greater savings and increased quality health care.”

In recent weeks, a promotional TV commercial features an aging Andy Griffith plugging ObamaCare and promising “More good things are coming” from the health law. The commercials cost $3 million to taxpayers. Poor Andy had a stroke not long ago.

Now a purportedly independent organization, called the Medicare Rights Center has sent out what it calls “A Resource for Journalists.” The seven-page packet is all about the fall open enrollment period, also known as the Annual Coordinated Election Period. It starts Nov. 15 and runs through the end of the year. During this period those on Medicare have the right to change their Medicare health and drug coverage options. Any changes they make will take effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

The Resource for Journalists takes a decidedly pro-ObamaCare viewpoint.  It explains that if a senior is considering a Medicare Advantage plan for 2011, “be aware that if you become unhappy with your MA plan, you have the option to switch to Original Medicare during the MADP.” MADP stands for Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period. The Medicare private health plan market, the guide says, has been “streamlined.” That’s a euphemism for torpedoed. The liberal Democrats who drafted the health law cut the Medicare Advantage program by $136 billion over the next decade, even as health cost rise. The Medicare actuaries predict the cuts will cause enrollment to drop by 50 percent.

Many companies that have offered Medicare Advantage plans are making major adjustments, including having to raise premiums or increasing seniors’ deductibles. Some are even being driven out of business. Why was MA slashed? Because it has given about one in four seniors private insurance options with added choices. “Private” and “choice” are odious ideas in the leftist mindset. Command and control by bureaucracy feels just right to them.

When I put a question to Secretary Sebelius as to why Medicare Advantage was being hammered, her reply was: “The government pays Medicare Advantage plans 13 percent more than necessary....The  [OmabaCare]act provides for the gradual elimination of excessive Medicare Advantage payments to insurance companies.” When I said that requiring at least 85 percent of every dollar be spent on health care sounded like profit-setting by government? Her haughty answer was “To ensure that at least 85 percent of their premium revenue is spent on enrollees creates incentives for insurance companies to be more efficient.”

The guide for journalists explained that Medicare private health plans will be required to have a maximum out-of-pocket limit. The mandatory limit is called “MOOP.” The guide continues: “Consumers who need expensive treatments and services will now be protected from exorbitant out-of-pockets costs.” The Medicare Rights Center recommends, when enrolling in a plan, calling 1-800-MEDICARE rather than the plan itself. In other words, trust the government rather than a private insurer.

Medicare, starting next year, will cover a huge number of “preventive” free. For seniors with “Original” Medicare, as it is labeled to distinguish it from Medicare Advantage, preventive services have been recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This is one of more than 150 agencies under ObamaCare.

Medicare-covered preventive services will include a “Welcome to Medicare Physical Exam.” It includes an electrocardiogram (EKG), and height, weight and blood pressure measurements; a yearly update of a patient’s medical history and current prescriptions, measure of body mass and a screening schedule for the next five to ten years as well as tests for cognitive issues; breast cancer screenings once every 12 months for women age 40-plus; breast exams are every 24 months; blood tests for cholesterol, lipid, and triglyceride levels, once every five years.

Also bone mass measurements every 24 months; diabetes screening every 12 months if there’s a family history of the disease; fecal occult blood tests to screen for colon cancer, every 12 months;  a colonoscopy every 10 years, and flexible sigmoidoscopy every 48 months to look for polyps; pneumonia and flu shots, Pap smear and pelvic exams every two years; prostate test for cancer every year for men over 50; even counseling to stop smoking and therapy to help you eat well.

Some health experts have pointed out that there are not enough physicians in the country to perform all these services and that doctors’ offices will be flooded with patients demanding this array of free services.

During the Open Enrollment Period, before a Medicare recipient makes a final choice, the “Resource for Journalists” material recommends that “Even if you are happy with your current plan,” you should review all options...Medicare private health plans change their costs and benefits every year; and every year, there are plans that decide to drop out of the Medicare program. The consolidation of plans this year and the new MOOP requirement and cost protections will most likely lead to more changes than in past years.” Undoubtedly, with the assault on Medicare Advantage.

“Medicare & You” is a thick booklet seniors get each year from HHS.  Cost—90 cents a copy. This year, it has happy talk about “exciting changes” and “new incentives to improve your health care.” But this year, the welcome page is signed not only by Kathleen Sebelius but also by Dr. Donald Berwick, new administrator of CMS. A signature by horror actor Bela Lugosi would be less terrifying to most seniors, because Dr. Berwick has said, “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”