Twelve months after Joe Biden claimed at the final presidential debate that “not one single person, private insurance, would lose their insurance under my [health] plan,” Democrats stand on the precipice of turning Biden’s statement into a reprise of Barack Obama’s “If you like your plan, you can keep it” Lie of The Year. The effort could cost millions of seniors their private Medicare plans, as Democrats raid one government program to create others.
With Democrats searching for politically acceptable ways to fund their multi-trillion-dollar spending spree, Medicare Advantage, the program in which private insurers provide Medicare benefits to seniors, appears on the table for cuts. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, recently confirmed this fact to Politico; the outlet quotes potential reductions as high as “the low hundreds of billions of dollars.”
The effort could gut a program that has skyrocketed in popularity. Over the past decade, Medicare Advantage enrollment has grown in both absolute and relative terms, reaching an estimated 27.4 million seniors this year. By the end of the decade, the Medicare actuary projects that nearly half of all seniors will enroll in MA.
Seniors enroll in Medicare Advantage for the program’s better benefits. At a time when Democrats want to expand traditional Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits, the overwhelming share of private Medicare plans already cover these services.
A recent survey found that only 6 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees lack dental benefits, only 3 percent lack hearing benefits, and a mere 1 percent lack vision coverage. Some seniors do pay deductibles and co-payments for this coverage, but out-of-pocket costs are roughly 20 percent lower for Medicare Advantage enrollees than those in traditional Medicare.
Rather than cutting Medicare Advantage, Democrats should instead harness its consumer-oriented approach to make Medicare more sustainable. In 2017, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that one proposal giving seniors a fixed contribution to select from private or public Medicare plans would save taxpayers $184 billion over ten years, while also reducing seniors’ total out-of-pocket spending by 5 percent.
Of course, this type of proposal wouldn’t accomplish the twin goals of Democrats’ Medicare Advantage cuts—driving more individuals into government-run care, while also raiding the Medicare “piggy bank” to fund new entitlements. The current reconciliation bill would follow in the footsteps of Obamacare, which directly reduced Medicare Advantage spending by $156 billion, along with additional indirect cuts to the program. Just as Obamacare reduced Medicare spending by a total of $716 billion to pay for its entitlements, so too do Democrats want to use Medicare to fund the “free” programs in their latest spending spree.
His age notwithstanding, the septuagenarian Biden has already demonstrated himself no friend to seniors. Recall that from 2017 through 2019, Biden and his wife Jill used a questionable tax loophole—one his own Treasury Department admits allows people like Biden “to avoid paying their fair share”—to dodge nearly $392,000 in Medicare taxes, along with an additional $121,000 in payroll taxes imposed by Obamacare.
Seniors therefore shouldn’t be surprised that someone who went out of his way to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in Medicare taxes would agree to provisions jeopardizing the Medicare coverage of 27 million beneficiaries. But as Biden himself might say, to those beneficiaries, that’s a big f-cking deal.