Today’s Hot Topics in Medicare News

A Stealth Medicare Open Enrollment Period Is Happening Now

BY ELIZABETH O’BRIEN: A big change has come to Medicare this year, and if you’re on Medicare Advantage you can take advantage of it.

From Jan. 1 to March 31, beneficiaries with Medicare Advantage, also known as Part C, can switch to a new Medicare Advantage plan or can leave the program altogether and return to Original Medicare (Parts A and B, with the option of buying a stand-alone Part D drug plan). Nearly 600,000 beneficiaries are expected to take advantage of this open enrollment period, according to government estimates. This doesn’t include seniors already on Original Medicare, who aren’t allowed to make any coverage changes during this time. (read more)

The detail that could make Medicare for All generous — and expensive

BY DREW ALTMAN: Now that the Democrats have taken control of the House, their “Medicare for All” proposals are going to get hearings and scrutiny. One feature of Bernie Sanders’ version that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet, but it will: the plan has no deductibles or other forms of patient cost-sharing.

Why it matters: In a country where so many Americans are bedeviled by medical bills, especially people who are sick and use a lot of medical care, this would be a big deal. It would actually make our system more generous than any of the other developed nations that Democrats like to cite as models for our own.

Details: It may be surprising, but no other developed nation has zero out of pocket costs — even those that treat health care as a basic human right, as Medicare for All supporters want to do. That’s because their national health plans have cost-sharing, or allow people to purchase health care outside the plan, or both. (read more)

New Congress Will Hold Historic Hearings On Expanding Social Security And Medicare

BY NANCY ALTMAN: The 116th U.S. Congress is already historic. It reflects the diversity of our country better than any previous Congress, with the highest numbers of women and people of color in history. Nancy Pelosi, the first and only female speaker of the House, has regained her gavel. New members include the first ever Native American Congresswomen, Muslim Congresswomen and the youngest Congresswoman in history.

This Congress is poised to make history on policy, as well. It will make significant strides in the fight to expand Social Security and Medicare. The incoming chair of the Social Security Subcommittee, Representative John Larson (D-CT), has told Social Security supporters that he will hold hearings on expanding Social Security early in the new Congress. And, on the first day of this new Congress, House Democrats announced that they will be holding hearings on Improved Medicare for All as well. (read more)

House Democrats tempt Trump with legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices

BY KIMBERLY LEONARD: House Democrats and one Republican have introduced a bill that would let Medicare negotiate lower drug prices, legislation that comes amid pharmaceutical hikes in the new year.

The bill would give more power to the Health and Human Services secretary to regulate Medicare Part D, the part of the program that covers drugs seniors get at the pharmacy, an arrangement advocated by progressives and at times by President Trump, but opposed by the pharmaceutical industry and many Republicans.

Currently the government is prohibited from directly setting prices, though the system operates by letting private insurers and middlemen known as pharmacy benefits managers negotiate. (read more)

Nearly 50% of Pre-Medicare Adults Worried About Healthcare Costs

BY JESSICA KENT: Forty-five percent of adults aged 50 to 64 are not confident that they will be able to afford healthcare coverage in retirement, according to a poll conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine.  

Nearly 30 percent said they weren’t sure they would be able to afford their health insurance in the next year, and one in ten said they had thought about going without health insurance in 2019. (read more)

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