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Medicare and Double Standards

May 28, 2010

In the full-circle department, recall the moment last September when Senator Max Baucus and Medicare went after the insurer Humana for having the nerve to criticize one part of ObamaCare. It turns out those same regulators have different standards for their own political advocacy.

This week Medicare sent a flyer to seniors, ostensibly to inform them of what ObamaCare “means for you.” Many elderly Americans are worried—and rightly so—about where they’ll rank in national health care, given that the new entitlement is funded by nearly a half-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts. They must have been relieved to hear that “The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama this year will provide you and your family greater savings and increased quality health care.”

That’s the first sentence of the four-page mailer, and it gives a flavor of the Administration’s respect for the public’s intelligence. It goes on to mention “improvements to Medicare Advantage,” the program that Democrats hate because it gives nearly one out of four seniors private health insurance options. “If you are in a Medicare Advantage plan, you will still receive guaranteed Medicare benefits.”

But that’s not what Medicare’s own actuary thinks. In an April memo, Richard Foster estimated that the $206 billion hole in Advantage will reduce benefits, cause insurers to withdraw from the program and reduce overall enrollment by half. Doug Elmendorf and his team at the Congressional Budget Office came to the same conclusion, as did every other honest expert.

That’s also what Humana told its customers, warning that seniors “could lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage so valuable.” Medicare threatened the Kentucky-based company with fines and regulatory punishments for “misleading and confusing” beneficiaries, then issued a blanket gag order on Advantage insurers. The agency later backed down, once its Cosa Nostra message had been signed, sealed and delivered.

Medicare’s flyer includes answers to other pressing questions in Boca Raton and Scottsdale, such as allowing children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health plans, and further misleading commentary about keeping the program “strong and solvent.” Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, believes the mailer may violate the prohibition on using taxpayer dollars for political propaganda.

The larger issue is the White House’s view of political opposition. It seems to think its assertions will be true if they are repeated often enough, as long as no one is allowed to disagree.


BACKGROUND: Ways and Means Ranking Member Dave Camp (R-MI) and Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Wally Herger (R-CA) sent a letter requesting that Government Accountability Office (GAO) Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro examine the legality of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) mailing to seniors about the Democrats’ health overhaul on the grounds that it is factually inaccurate and constitutes taxpayer-funded propaganda.  Camp and Herger also sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking that CMS immediately stop all mailings until the GAO has issued an official opinion.