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Senate Panel Members Back Insurers On Medicare Plans

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Both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee praised a Medicare Advantage program proposal offered by insurers.

Committee members implied that Medicare Advantage program critics will have a tough time getting Congress to cut program appropriations.

Several senators questioned national data indicating that Medicare Advantage is more costly than the basic Medicare fee-for-service program.

“We need regional data,” said Sen. Ronald Wyden, D-Ore. “National data is masking what is going on in our state. We have to make decisions by region, and we don’t have adequate data to do that.”

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the committee, made the same point in his opening statement.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the most senior Republican, got witnesses to predict that Medicare Advantage cuts would affect many beneficiaries living both in cities and in rural areas.

Senators from both parties praised the wellness services and broad benefit menus that Medicare Advantage programs offer.

“Beneficiaries now have choices that can provide them with lower out-of-pocket costs and benefits not otherwise available in traditional Medicare,” Grassley said.

Several weeks ago, members of the House Ways and Means Committee health subcommittee were far more critical of the Medicare Advantage program.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chairman of the subcommittee, and several witnesses talked about shifting cash that could be used to avert a scheduled 10% cut in Medicare payments to physicians to pay for an expansion of the State Children’s Insurance Program.

Stark, the Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and AARP, Washington, say the Medicare Advantage program costs the federal government about 12% more than the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program.