The most senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee warned Tuesday that he believes House Democrats will soon try to eliminate the Medicare Advantage program.

Private insurers work through the program to sell Medicare health maintenance organizations and some Medicare preferred provider plans and private fee-for-service plans.

Congress set up the program in the 1990s as an alternative to the traditional, government-run Medicare fee-for-service program.

Democrats will try to eliminate the Medicare Advantage program because they are “eager to deny the role that markets can play in offering improved medical care at a lower cost,” Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., writes in a memo to House Republican members and staffers.

The chairman of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission recently told the House Ways and Means Committee that Medicare Advantage plans receive higher per-patient payments than traditional fee-for-service Medicare plans.

“Some Democrats have seized on this disparity to try to end Medicare Advantage and use the theoretical savings to expand government-run health care,” McCrery writes in his memo.

Medicare Advantage plans may cost the government slightly more, but they provide better coverage, and they can do so without the co-payments required by fee-for-service, McCrery writes.

“This year, nearly all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries have access to plans that provide protection for out-of-pocket costs, and plans that fill the gap in prescription drug coverage,” McCrery writes.

McCrery says Congress may be about to return to the road it took in 1997, when it chased many insurers from the Medicare Advantage program by reducing Medicare Advantage program payment rates.