The Boston Globe reports:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

“We became concerned by the long-term viability of Medicare Advantage programs in general,’’ said Lynn Bowman, vice president of customer service at Harvard Pilgrim’s office in Quincy. “We know that cuts in Medicare are being used to fund national health care reform. And we also had concerns about our ability to build a network of health care providers that would meet the needs of our seniors.’’

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan has defended Medicare Advantage as a free-market reform to Medicare, and Florida Senate GOP candidate Marco Rubio has made repealing Obamacare and protecting Medicare Advantage part of his plan to "protect seniors"

  • IDEA #4: Repeal ObamaCare And Protect Medicare Advantage. By far, the biggest threat to seniors and their way of life is President Obama’s massive health care overhaul. ObamaCare is slated to reallocate $575 billion from Medicare by 2019. The projected $136 billion cut in funding to Medicare Advantage will result in fewer plan choices, less access to physicians and higher taxes. Ultimately, these results are caused by the administration and Congress taking resources from seniors to create new entitlements for younger Americans. ObamaCare will also cause many retirees to lose their current coverage. One study found that the new law’s elimination of a tax subsidy could result in as many as two million retirees losing their drug coverage from their former employer’s plan. As for the millions of seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage, the CMS actuary projected that half will be cut from the rolls. One insurance carrier recently announced it would stop offering its national Medicare Advantage plan effective next year, leaving 92,000 seniors without their current coverage. Many more such announcements are on the way. Senior citizens deserve better than this. We must repeal ObamaCare and replace it with free market solutions that will not place hardships on older Americans.

For more on Medicare Advantage, see Fred Barnes's November 2009 piece on the program:

Medicare Advantage (MA) is the crown jewel of government health care programs. It allows seniors to choose a health insurance plan that fits their needs. It gives them extra benefits, including eyeglasses and hearing aids, and pays for preventive care such as physical exams. Under MA, seniors don't need to buy supplementary Medigap insurance. It covers prescription drugs, in many cases beyond what the regular Medicare prescription drug program does. It requires lower deductibles and copayments, and thus is more affordable. Roughly one in four Medicare beneficiaries has signed up for MA. That's 10.6 million seniors. A disproportionately high percentage of them are poor African Americans and Hispanics.

You'd think President Obama and his congressional allies would love MA. It provides almost everything they've been demanding in health care for years. But Obama is trashing it. He claims it will give $177 billion in "overpayments" to insurance companies over the next 10 years. He wants to cut that amount from Medicare Advantage. The Democratic bill drafted by Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus would cut $113 billion. House Democrats would slash $160 billion.

Frugality, however, is not their motive for bludgeoning MA. There are three things about it that Obama and Democrats loathe: (1) It's a Republican program, enacted as part of President Bush's prescription drug bill in 2003; (2) it brings free market competition and private, profit-making insurers into Medicare; (3) it uses a pool of money they'd rather spend on other programs.

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