Allyson Young Schwartz, the president of the Better Medicare Alliance, leads one of the major campaigns to defend the Medicare Advantage program.
The former health clinic director represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House, as a Democrat, from 2005 through 2015. While in the House, she introduced bills that could have created an above-the-line deduction for long-term care insurance premiums.
Now, she goes to Capitol Hill to win friends for the Medicare Advantage program.
Medicare Advantage Basics
The Medicare Advantage program gives private insurers a way to use a combination of federal subsidy money and consumer payments to provide an alternative to “Original Medicare.” In exchange for accepting care management, and use of provider networks, enrollees may get lower out-of-pocket costs, and access to extras such as basic dental and vision coverage.
About 21.6 million of the 60.5 million people with Medicare coverage today have signed up for Medicare Advantage plans or similar plans, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services enrollment dashboard.
But congressional moves to change the funding formula nearly killed the predecessor of the Medicare Advantage program, the old Medicare + Choice program.
Today, the program faces wide spectrum of threats, ranging from the Affordable Care Act health insurer tax, which affects just about all health insurers, to proposals to create a completely government-run Medicare for All system.
“‘Medicare for All’ is a very good title,” Schwartz said Wednesday in an interview.
One problem with the title, Schwartz said, is that the Medicare for All proposals would eliminate Medicare Advantage, and Original Medicare.
The Better Medicare Alliance
Health insurers helped start the Better Medicare Alliance. The alliance says it has many supporting organizations outside the health insurance sector, including organizations such as Meals on Wheels and the National Hispanic Council on Aging.
Some of the insurance sector organizations on the allies list are the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, Delta Dental and the National Association of Health Underwriters.
The alliance has set up an action center that the enrollees themselves can use to sign petitions, share their stories and take action in other ways. The alliance says it has about 400,000 senior supporters.
The latest alliance Form 990 report available on the Candid 990 Finder website, which is for 2017, shows that the alliance recorded $1.9 million in operating income that year on $11 million in revenue and $4.1 million in assets. The alliance was working with the Glover Park Group LLC and Fleishman Hilliard, two communications strategy firms, according to the report.
Here are five things Schwartz is seeing out there now, drawn from the interview.
1. People in Medicare Advantage plans love their coverage.
The alliance conducted a survey of about 2,000 Medicare Advantage plan enrollees in late September and early October. About 94% of the participants said they like their coverage.
2. Issuers are enthusiastic about the new supplemental, non-medical ‘social determinants of care’ benefits that Medicare Advantage managers are letting into the plans.
The flexibility is new, and issuers are not getting extra funding to pay for the new benefits, Schwartz said.
But Milliman found, when it analyzed benefits menus for the alliance, that the number of supplemental benefits offered has increased to 364 for 2020,from 102 for 2019.