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Bipartisan majority of Senate urging strengthening of Medicare Advantage

I recently led a letter signed by fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch and 63 of our Senate colleagues to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Acting Administrator Dr. Patrick Conway encouraging the Trump Administration to enact policies to protect and strengthen the Medicare Advantage program. The letter was signed by a growing, bipartisan group of senators (4 more than signed a similar letter I led last year and 12 more than signed the letter I led in 2015).

More than 18 million seniors and individuals with disabilities nationwide access comprehensive, high-quality health care through the MA program. Plans offered through Medicare Advantage allow beneficiaries to choose a health plan that best suits their individual budget and health needs. These plans often offer more flexible services and additional benefits, including vision, dental and prescription drug coverage. Additionally, this program is a successful effort to push Medicare more toward market based health care.

Despite the value the MA program has demonstrated and broad use by beneficiaries, it faced repeated attempts by the Obama Administration to raid the program to cover the cost of inefficiencies in Obamacare and traditional Medicare. Idaho has been impacted by reductions to the program, as the past Administration’s cuts to the program resulted in MA plans no longer being offered in numerous Idaho counties. As the new Congress and new Trump Administration consider comprehensive reforms to our health care system, it is noteworthy that a bipartisan and increasing majority of the Senate is pressing for the strengthening of “this proven part of the program that has led the way on value-based care.”

In the letter to the CMS, we went on to write, “Millions of our constituents depend on Medicare Advantage for affordable, quality, patient-centered health care. Enrollment has increased by about 60 percent since 2010, as plans have demonstrated their ability to deliver value to their members. Nearly one of every three Medicare beneficiaries has selected a Medicare Advantage plan, with 90 percent of members reporting satisfaction with their selection. . . . We believe Medicare Advantage is an important part of the health care system that is working for America’s seniors. We encourage the Administration to strongly support and build on Medicare Advantage for today’s Medicare beneficiaries and those who will be entering the program in the future.”

The Medicare Advantage program can serve as a model of coordinated care that aligns payments with patient outcomes, rather than the number of procedures. As I work with Idahoans, my colleagues in Congress and the Trump Administration to reform our health care system, I will continue to press for leveraging the MA program to encourage innovation, increase competition and expand beneficiary access to these private Medicare plans.

Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has served in the U.S. Senate since 1999. The views and opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Independent-Enterprise.