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The Hill: Rare bipartisan healthcare issue

March 15, 2016
Opinion Editorial
By Tim Walberg and Mark Swanson

In today's all-too-often divisive political environment, the people of Michigan and across the country can be forgiven for their frustration.

But there is reason to take heart, because there are issues where the majority of Republicans and Democrats are committed to finding common ground. Among the most important is Medicare Advantage, which is why we – a member of Congress and a Medicare Advantage enrollee from Michigan – are happy to share the success of this healthcare program. 

This is the version of Medicare through which senior citizens have the option of selecting a private healthcare plan that provides comprehensive coverage, all under one plan – rather than rely on the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program. More than 30 percent of seniors and individuals with disabilities across America choose this option. And beneficiaries like it so much, they write letters, speak up at town hall meetings, and advocate for keeping it in tact.

There are numerous reasons seniors on Medicare Advantage are so overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and arriving to Capitol Hill this week to share their stories. 

One of the first is the economics. Under Medicare Advantage, healthcare services—from a doctor's appointment or a prescription refill to an emergency room visit—are available for only a small co-pay. Plus, every plan includes a cap on annual out-of-pocket expenses. This ensures that a patient's costs are predictable. Enrollees in Medicare Advantage know they aren't going to be saddled with huge medical bills when an unexpected health issue arises.

But Medicare Advantage enrollees are also satisfied because these financial protections don't sacrifice quality of care. In fact, beneficiaries of Medicare Advantage get better, more comprehensive care than their recipients of traditional Medicare.

For example, Medicare Advantage places a high priority on care coordination. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies of Science, has identified care coordination as a key strategy for improving effectiveness, safety, efficiency, and outcomes. It's that important.

Why? We all know healthcare can be complicated, all the more so when a patient suffers from a complex condition that involves different specialists, treatments, and medications. With Medicare Advantage, seniors aren't forced to go it alone. Their health plan actively contributes to getting all the different pieces working together to the benefit of the patient.

The approach taken by Medicare Advantage is also good in the long run for seniors and the overall healthcare system because preventative care takes center stage. Medicare Advantage health plans incentivize beneficiaries to stay healthy. Screenings are also a priority and are often free or covered at a low cost. That means health problems are detected early, before they become more complicated and expensive to treat. Seniors are spared the difficulties associated with aggressive medical interventions – and the government saves money at the same time.

We may not be able to find "win-win" solutions on every issue, but Medicare Advantage is a clear case that works unusually well for the nearly 17 million Americans it serves.

As lawmakers meet with seniors to talk about all the reasons why this program works so well for them, we should pay attention to our elders on Medicare Advantage. It is worth celebrating – and protecting – so that we may continue to take good care of those who have contributed so much to our communities and families throughout their lives.

This op-ed originally appeared in the March 15 edition of The Hill.