The insurance industry wins a big one

Lobbying effort on Medicare Advantage, mostly uncovered in the press, pays off in DC

The lead of Politico’s story on the battle over Medicare Advantage cuts didn’t pull any punches: “The insurance industry chalked up one of its greatest political victories in recent memory Monday,” Brett Norman and Jennifer Haberkorn wrote, detailing how the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) vanquished the forces of government evil—i.e., bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) who had proposed cutting payment rates for the plans.

Two months ago those regulators had proposed the cuts for Medicare Advantage plans—a private, and controversial, option for delivery of Medicare benefits. For years the federal government has been paying sellers of these plans more than it costs traditional Medicare to provide the same benefits. Obamacare imposed some reductions for the companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans, and in February CMS regulators called for an additional 2.3 percent cut as part of an annual review process.

Instead, CMS on Monday ruled that insurers would be seeing a 3.3 percent increase—a reversal worth billions to the industry.

The reversal comes after an intensive industry lobbying effort, both inside the Beltway and across the country. An Astroturf “grassroots” campaign launched by the industry’s sham consumer group, the Coalition for Medicare Choices, aired ads in several key states—“a political step that the industry hadn’t taken” in any fight since the passage of healthcare reform, one insider tells Politico. (Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff has one of the ads in her write-up of the reversal.) The pull-out-all-the-stops campaign helped convince more than 160 members of Congress to ask CMS to reconsider. That kind of politics is hard to ignore.

So where was the press as this battle was unfolding—including local outlets in the places where the public campaign was being waged? Unfortunately, as I wrote on Friday, it was mostly nowhere to be seen.

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Medicare Uncovered: the insurers’ latest campaign

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman. Tags: , , ,