BMA in the News

Azar, House Republicans Say Medicare For All Threatens MA Plans

Inside Health Policy

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and House Republicans criticized the recently introduced Medicare For All bill at a House Energy & Commerce health subcommittee hearing Tuesday (March 12), saying it would eliminate Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, a claim that the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said was true, but the office said the bill would cover everything MA does.

Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Jayapal, and 107 co-sponsors, introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2019 in February. It would create single-payer, government health insurance for American citizens at birth and, if passed, would go into effect within two years.

Azar touted Medicare Advantage plans for offering supplemental benefits beyond traditional Medicare. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) asked what those supplemental benefits could look like. “That could be lower cost-sharing. We have some Medicare Advantage plans that have zero-dollar generic drug coverage,” Azar said.

Walden also touted Medicare Advantage, but said that it was his understanding that under Medicare For All, Medicare Advantage would be eliminated since the bill would scrap private plans, an assessment Azar agreed with. “What would happen to those 20 million seniors?” he asked, referring to those in MA plans.

“They would have to go to Medicare fee-for-service which have very high deductibles, very high cost-sharing,” Azar said.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) said Medicare Advantage is popular in his district and shared a question by a constituent which asked whether Medicare For All is socialized medicine. Azar said the bill would establish a single-payer system with providers under it, “like countries with socialized systems around health care.”

“Congress or HHS will set salaries for physicians,” he said, adding that he hopes the United States does not get to that point.

A spokesperson for Jayapal’s office said that the bill would eliminate MA, but would ensure the same coverage as MA at no cost, including supplemental benefits. The spokesperson agreed that Medicare fee-for-service is limited in what it covers, citing mental health as one example. However, her office said the Medicare For All bill would cover those services, from prescriptions to diagnoses. This way, the spokesperson said, seniors wouldn’t need MA.

Defending the legislation from criticism by Republicans and industry groups about the bill’s lack of a cost estimate, Jayapal’s office said the bill was only recently introduced and other health care bills don’t include financing.

The Better Medicare Alliance told Inside Health Policy that MA should remain a choice for beneficiaries.“Medicare Advantage provides affordable, high-quality health care for more than a third of people enrolled in Medicare and should remain an option for current and future beneficiaries in any serious health reform proposals,” said President and CEO Allyson Schwartz. -- Chelsea Cirruzzo (ccirruzzo@iwpnews.com)