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Health care issues: What about Medicare Advantage?

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A look at key issues in the health care debate:

THE ISSUE: Would cuts in the various health care bills pending in Congress affect the benefits available in Medicare Advantage?

THE POLITICS: Medicare Advantage is part of Medicare, but is an alternative to the traditional fee-for-service program that covers most beneficiaries. Under Advantage, seniors can opt for plans offered by private companies that generally include all Medicare-covered services as well as additional benefits, such as lower co-pays and dental care. About 25 percent of Medicare users, or 10 million people, take part in the program. President Barack Obama and many Democrats want to pay for much of their health care overhaul plan by cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from the Medicare budget over 10 years, with about $100 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage. Federal subsidies to the companies providing Advantage plans average about 14 percent higher than those involved in traditional fee-for-service coverage. Health care bills in Congress would cut or eliminate the difference, creating savings to help cover more uninsured.

WHAT IT MEANS: The White House has repeatedly said the cuts to providers won’t reduce benefits to seniors. But recently, the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, told lawmakers that seniors in Advantage could see reduced benefits under the Senate Finance Committee bill. Committee aides say core Medicare benefits won’t be cut. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is calling for grandfathering in existing Advantage users so they wouldn’t see reduced benefits.

_ By Jennifer C. Kerr

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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