Medicare Advantage managed care plans and private fee-for-service plans may appear to cost more than traditional Medicare plans, but that’s because they provide much better value for the beneficiaries.

Officials at America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, are making that argument in response to arguments by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that Congress should consider trimming Medicare’s skyrocketing costs by cutting back on the Medicare Advantage program and boosting the traditional, government-run Medicare fee-for-service program.

About 8 million of the United States’ 38 million Medicare beneficiaries now have Medicare Advantage coverage, up 60% from the total in 2003.

The Medicare commission underestimated true traditional Medicare program costs by excluding administrative costs and some other costs, AHIP says.

Moreover, the commission failed to consider that the Medicare Advantage plans protect members, including low-income members, by offering coverage for vision care, hearing care, dental care and mental health care, and by promoting a variety of fitness and wellness programs, AHIP says.

Medicare program officials themselves have estimated the Medicare Advantage plans save enrollees an average of $1,032 per year, or a total of $8 billion for all enrollees, by providing better benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs, AHIP says.