Medicare Advantage Tussle at Heart of Overhaul

Chances are that many taxpayers have never heard of Medicare Advantage.

Yet that program — in which private-sector firms insure about 10 million people age 65 and older — is at the heart of this week’s Senate debate over health insurance.

About 23 percent of Medicare beneficiaries now have Medicare Advantage coverage, which provides more benefits than traditional Medicare.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is proposing to cut more than $100 billion over 10 years from Medicare Advantage plans.

The senators on the Finance Committee who are debating Baucus’s bill this week are trying to walk a fine line: how to cut spending on Medicare Advantage, while not alienating the seniors in their own states who are happy with the plans.

Those on Medicare Advantage will get a chance to let Congress know what they think of all this in next year’s elections. In the last off-year election in 2006, nearly two-thirds of people over 65 voted. By contrast, only one-third of people aged 25 to 34 voted in 2006.

Why cut Medicare Advantage? The logic is simple: A principal goal of overhauling health insurance is to insure the uninsured.

Senators need to raise the revenue to pay for that.

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