Saturday, March 27, 2010

* Improved benefits ahead for New York's 2.8M Medicare subscribers under Obama's new health care law

Saturday, March 27th 2010, 4:00 AM

Medicare beneficiaries won't see a decline in care, they'll  receive improved benefits under the new health care law.
Siegel for News
Medicare beneficiaries won't see a decline in care, they'll receive improved benefits under the new health care law.

No one is "pulling the plug on granny" under the health care bill President Obama signed this week. If anything, experts say, granny will soon be pulling down new benefits.

While Obama's health care overhaul does eventually trim subsidies to Medicare Advantage - which are privately managed policies that some seniors pay extra for - older Americans should see little or no decline in care.

New York's 2.8 million Medicare beneficiaries should actually find several new goodies in the new law, among them $250 rebates this year to help fill the so-called "doughnut hole" in prescription drug coverage.

"This health reform improves benefits, it does not take away benefits, for seniors," said Tricia Neuman, vice president for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "It strengthens Medicare by keeping it fiscally stronger for longer, and it puts in place reforms that should genuinely improve quality of care."

The new law also eliminates co-pays for checkups and other preventive procedures under Medicare starting in 2011 and guarantees balanced books for Medicare through at least 2026.

There are changes in store for Medicare Advantage - privately run plans that some 360,000 city seniors pay a little extra for.

The policies were created in the 1980s, when private insurers argued they could meet or beat Medicare's services in exchange for federal dollars that were about 5% less than regular Medicare.

Today, the math is reversed: Taxpayers fork over 14% more to Medicare Advantage companies to care for seniors - a $12 billion pot that Obama called an unnecessary windfall for the industry.

The law will freeze Medicare Advantage payments to insurers in 2011, then gradually align them with regular Medicare payments by 2014.

Some have worried that the trims could force Medicare Advantage plans to raise premiums, but experts say it's unlikely - the bill also includes cash bonuses for companies that keep costs down and health up.

"What we hope will happen is a race to the top among plans that really want ... to get those additional bonus payments," said Joe Baker, president of the nonpartisan Medicare Rights Center.

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