(AP photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Two witnesses painted completely different pictures of the state of the Medicare Advantage program today at a House Energy & Commerce health subcommittee hearing.

Marsha Gold, an analyst at Mathematica Policy Research, said enrollment and plan availability should be strong in 2014.

In 2014, for example, only 5 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees will have to switch plans because their plans are going away, Gold said.

“Most who do will be able to enroll in the same type of plan, often offered by the same company,” Gold said.

Average plan premiums were stable in 2014, and they dropped an average of 21 percent from 2010 through 2013, Gold said.

The gap between spending on traditional Medicare enrollees and Medicare Advantage enrollees has narrowed, but Medicare is still spending an average of 4 percent more on Medicare Advantage enrollees this year than on traditional plan enrollees, Gold said.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, said cuts are hurting a program that does a much better job of coordinating care and keeping enrollees healthy than the traditional Medicare program.

The number of Medicare Advantage plans is 5.3 percent smaller this year than it was during the program open enrollment period for the 2013 plan year, and carriers are having to think about cutting benefits, leaving some markets and shifting to smaller provider networks, Holtz-Eakin said.

If Congress simply cuts the program without finding ways to improve quality and efficiency, “it will backfire,” Holtz-Eakin said. 

Eventually, Holtz-Eakin said, Congress will put the money it took out of the program back in.

“To not put the money back in is to deny seniors care,” Holtz-Eakin said. “That’s your choice.”

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