In October 2009, here's how Sen. Jay Rockefeller described the Medicare Advantage plans: "It's a wasteful, inefficient program and always has been,
February 21, 2010

In October 2009, here's how Sen. Jay Rockefeller described the Medicare Advantage plans:

"It's a wasteful, inefficient program and always has been," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said at a recent hearing. At its core, Rockefeller added, Medicare Advantage is "stuffing money into the pockets of private insurers, and it doesn't provide any better benefits to anybody."

Yes, the for-profit add-on plans the Republicans pushed through under Bush heavily subsidize services. (So much for "pay as you go," huh?)

A study released yesterday by a major consulting firm found that premiums for Medicare Advantage plans offering medical and prescription-drug coverage jumped 14.2 percent on average in 2010, after an increase of 5.2 percent the previous year. Some 8.5 million elderly and disabled Americans are in the plans, which provide more comprehensive coverage than traditional Medicare, often at lower cost.

Lee Durrwachter, a retired chemical engineer from Grand Marais, Mich., said his premiums more than doubled this year - even though he switched plans to try to save money. "It doesn't bode well," he said. "It's unaffordable."

The Medicare findings are bad news for President Obama and his health-care overhaul that is bogged down in Congress. That is because the higher Medicare Advantage premiums for 2010 followed a cut in government payments to the private plans last year. And the Democratic bills pending in Congress call for even more cuts, which are expected to force many seniors to drop out of what has been a rapidly growing alternative to traditional Medicare.

Republicans have seized on the Medicare Advantage cuts in their campaign to derail the health-care bills, and seniors are listening. Polls show seniors are more skeptical of the legislation than the public as a whole, even though Democrats would also reinforce original Medicare by improving preventive benefits and narrowing the prescription-coverage gap.

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