Both consumers and doctors fear the effects of cuts in federal support for the Medicare Advantage program, according to the largest trade group for U.S. health insurers.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, today ramped up its defense of program funding against the scissors of congressional budget cutters by unveiling the results of 2 surveys conducted by outside research firms.

The research firms asked doctors whether proposed cuts in the Medicare Advantage program concerned them, and they asked patients whether the patients would go without treatment if cutbacks greatly increased Medicare Advantage plan members’ out-of-pocket expenses.

About 74% of the doctors who participated said cutting Medicare Advantage would hurt seniors, and only 16% said the cuts would have no effect, AHIP said.

About 35% of all Medicare Advantage plan members surveyed – and 62% of Medicare Advantage plan members with annual incomes of less than $20,000 — said they would skip treatments rather than pay the increased costs out-of-pocket.

“Seniors and their physicians agree that Medicare Advantage is a vital health coverage option,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni said. “As members of Congress engage in budget discussions, they will be hearing from their low-income and minority constituents who count on the essential benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs Medicare health plans provide.”

Ignagni noted that AHIP will be providing district-by-district data on Medicare Advantage as well as national data, and figures showing that 90% of the seniors participating in the AHIP survey reported being very or somewhere satisfied with the Medicare Advantage program.

The Medicare Advantage program permits private insurers to sell subsidized Medicare health maintenance organization, preferred provider organization and private fee-for-service plans that offer richer benefits and lower out-of-pocket expenses than basic Medicare coverage.

Medicare Advantage opponents say the program rattles Medicare’s shaky finances by encouraging patients to use too much care. Program supporters say Medicare Advantage plans provide important benefits, such as dental care and vision care, that are vital to seniors’ health.