Is Medicare Expanding with New Chief in Charge?

Recently instated, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who oversees the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces in addition to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, voiced her top Medicare priorities to be broadening insurance coverage and ensuring health equity for all. 

“We’ve seen through the pandemic what happens when people don’t have health insurance and how important it is. Our focus is going to be on making sure regulations and policies are going to be focused on improving coverage,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

“Over the last couple of years, I’ve worked with a lot of the state-based marketplaces and we could see the difference in enrollment when the states were actively pushing coverage. I believe that most people who are not enrolled want coverage but may not understand it’s available or how to get it. It’s about knowledge and affordability.”

Brooks-LaSure’s priorities

Since she was sworn in on May 2 to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Brooks-LaSure has finally voiced her agenda. Expansion appears to be the theme. The Medicare Chief announced the following as her top priorities: 

Medigap. The Medicare administrator wants to ensure coverage for the millions of Americans in the Medicaid gap. She demands aid for those people in the dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act who earn too little to qualify for ACA marketplace coverage. 

Additional state funding. She believes states should have additional incentive funding provided in the recent American Rescue Plan toward expanding their Medicaid programs, “because ideally states are able to craft policies in their own states; they’re closest to the ground.” But if states fail to take up the offer — none have so far — “the public option or other coverage certainly would be a strategy to make sure people in those states have coverage,” Brooks-LaSaure said.

Medicare Insolvency. Of course, Brooks-LaSure is aware of the impending insolvency of the trust fund that finances a large part of the Medicare program. Last year’s economic downturn and the resulting loss in employees’ withholding taxes is likely to accelerate the date when Medicare’s hospital insurance program will not be able to cover all its bills.

According to Brooks-LaSure, Congress will be spending time on the issue in the coming year, which will allow the opportunity for officials to reenvision the Medicare program and consider expanding benefits. Democrats in Congress are looking at both lowering Medicare’s eligibility age and adding benefits the program lacks, including dental, hearing, and vision coverage.

“I hope that we, when we are looking at solvency, really focus on making sure we keep the Medicare program robust,” said Brooks-LaSure. “And that may mean some changes that strengthen the program.”

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