Votes & Smokes, Folks
When I opened my Nation and saw the “Steal Back Your Vote” comic [Oct. 27], I blurted out, “Fucking excellent!” And for me, unlike Sarah “God Bless Exxon” Palin, that includes a “g.” I also found it amusing that there was an advertising insert for an addictive drug (tobacco). As a downhill skate racer I’m used to marketing of all kinds everywhere, including on our boards and clothes. My new leathers are unusual in that they say JuanCole.com.
Obama on Healthcare
The wonderfully informative Trudy Lieberman left out one piece of information in “Can Obama Reform Healthcare?” [Oct. 27]. Will Obama keep his promise to cut off the Medicare overpayments used to finance the Medicare Advantage plans, or does he consider them “a whole system of institutions” that can’t be disturbed?
New York City
Milliron is right. In the interest of brevity, I did not address the issue of extra payments to Medicare Advantage plans, which allow seniors to get their hospital, doctor and drug benefits in one plan. Nor did I address a particular type of Medicare Advantage plan called the private-fee-for-service plan, which lures seniors in with goodies such as eye exams and gym memberships. When seniors get sick, they find that the fine print often says they have to pay 20 percent for chemotherapy drugs or 30 percent for oxygen. Congress authorized these plans when it passed the prescription drug benefit legislation in 2003 as a way to hasten the privatization of Medicare, arguing that they would be more efficient and save the government money.
Instead they have cost the government money. The Commonwealth Fund, a New York City research and philanthropic organization, recently released two reports. One shows that, on average, the government is paying Medicare Advantage plans 12.4 percent more than it costs to provide the same coverage to people under the traditional Medicare program. The total of overpayments this year comes to $8.5 billion. The government is overpaying private-fee-for-service plans, which are used by some 2 million beneficiaries, 16.6 percent. These extra payments come to almost $2.5 billion for the year.
That’s a lot to be paying for gym memberships and eye exams, a point Barack Obama made in the third debate when he said, “It doesn’t help seniors get any better. It’s not improving our healthcare system. It’s just a giveaway.” Congress cut some of the fat out of the extra payments this summer. They will be about 15 percent less at the beginning of 2010.