Despite being on the federal budget chopping block every year, Medicare Advantage continues to be a shining star in health insurance. It’s time, once and for all, for Congress to prioritize ongoing protections for senior citizens and the disabled who rely upon dependable coverage.
Each year I meet with Congress members to plead my case for why funding for this invaluable program should not only be protected, but increased. And each year we’ve experienced only nominal funding decreases, which is not the ideal outcome. But I am hopeful that this new wave of elected officials in southern California — including but not limited to Katie Hill in the north to Mike Levin in the south — will help swing the pendulum toward a positive outcome for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries as they join healthcare stalwarts such as Rep. Alan Lowenthal in the mission to provide excellent benefits to consumers.
Medicare Advantage allows consumers to select from an array of private health plans. These plans provide comprehensive insurance, avoiding the need for costly Medicare supplements, which, over the years, can be a drain on the finances of those living on a fixed income. And all plans cap out-of-pocket expenses to protect members’ finances, which is especially important in one’s golden years.
Access to diverse, affordable coverage options is the foundation of Medicare Advantage, but the competition between health plans is also driving advancements in benefits and care delivery. For example, plans are taking seriously the social determinants of health. Studies have revealed that non-medical factors as simple as income level or home safety can lead to significant health disparities.
Each aspect of Medicare Advantage, on its own, should be protected by Congress, but collectively, the program’s positives provide certainty and benefits required by seniors and the disabled. In fact, many Medicare Advantage health plans have introduced additional benefits to address the challenges seniors and disabled people may face. There are plans that provide in-home clinical visits, so patients don’t have to travel to the doctor, or free transportation for those who wish to make office visits. Some deliver meals for several days after hospital discharge, when it can be difficult to eat let alone prepare nutritious meals required for recovery. And the free fitness program, Silver Sneakers, remains immensely popular, helping seniors stay active and overcome social isolation.
The evidence suggests that going the extra mile is very much worth it — and proper funding is critical. Medicare Advantage has notched better results on a variety of quality markers, from the high prevalence of breast cancer screenings to a lower incidence of hospital readmissions. Clearly, supporting patients’ wellness efforts and providing structures to overcome any barriers to quality care does return better patient outcomes.
Senior citizens who aren’t getting everything they need through traditional Medicare, as well as people nearing retirement age, may want to educate themselves about Medicare Advantage plans. And all of us should let our elected leaders know we support quality healthcare options for older and disabled Americans. Fortunately, multiple members of Congress have come out in support of Medicare Advantage as they learn about its ability to deliver quantifiable results to their constituents. Make sure your Congressional representative and Senator have joined the fight in favor of stable and even increased funding levels for this vital program.
Claire Akey is a Long Beach resident and medical insurance advisor.