Remember President Obama's promise that if you like your plan you can keep it? Well forget it. An analysis by research company Avalere Health shows that a plan by Medicare to try to make it simpler for consumers to pick drug coverage could force 3 million seniors to switch plans next year whether they like it or not. These seniors see their will see their prescription plan eliminated as part of a new effort by Medicare to eliminate duplicate plans that offer the similar coverage. These seniors would not lose coverage, but they probably will see changes in their premiums and copayments.
Medicare officials dismissed the Avalere estimate without offering their own number. "Anybody who is producing that kind of analysis is simply guessing," said Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator for Medicare.
But Bonnie Washington, a senior analyst with Avalere, said the company's analysis used Medicare's specifications.
For example, Medicare has already notified insurers they will no longer be able to offer more than one "basic" drug plan in any given location. Several major prescription plans, including CVS-Caremark and AARP, offered two basic options throughout the country this year, Washington said. Eliminating that particular form of duplication among the top plans would force 2.75 million beneficiaries to find new coverage, according to Avalere's estimate.
The change in the program will help new people signing up for the plan, but it makes things more difficult for the 17.5 million seniors already in the program. When all the changes are taken into account, as many as 3.7 million Medicare recipients may have to switch plans according to Avalere. That represents about 20% of the program's total enrollment.
Former Medicare administrator Leslie Norwalk said the change might make things easier for people signing up for Medicare but harder for those already in the program.
"If you're in a plan that you like and you have to change it, it will be disruptive," said Norwalk, acting administrator under President George W. Bush. "It depends on how (Medicare) handles it to try to make it as seamless as possible."
The government is not famous for making things seamless. So ultimately things will be more difficult for the enrolled adults.
"Some opponents of the (health care) law may say that this is taking away choices, but we have heard from our members for years that the (drug coverage) options can be confusing," said Nora Super, AARP's top health care lobbyist. The seniors lobby supports the change. AARP's public policy branch is separate from its business side, which sponsors Medicare and other insurance plans.
That's the same AARP that helped the Progressives push through Obamacare over the objections of their own membership in order to enrich the organization through selling insurance.
"We are not reducing the number of (insurers). We are not reducing the number of quality plans," said Blum, adding that having fewer, more distinct choices will benefit seniors. "That puts beneficiaries in a stronger, rather than weaker position."