Under much fanfare, Congress passed a new budget on a bi-partisan basis. With the nature of how Washington seems to “work” these days, you can either view “bi-partisan” as a good thing or a bad thing. In this case, an agreement was reached because neither party wants to look bad in the pivotal upcoming mid-term elections. They have avoided looking bad by approving increased spending for just about every special interest group you can imagine. This will clearly increase the deficit and kick the can further down the road in terms for paying for it, but that is for another day. The good news for you is that there were a few changes to Medicare that will generally be a positive for Medicare beneficiaries.
In my humble opinion, the most significant change was to move up the elimination of the Part D donut hole from 2020 to 2019. I have never liked this provision which might have made sense to the actuaries who designed the plan but never made sense for the seniors covered by it.
Other changes of note include:
- The elimination of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, sometimes referred to as the “death panel” has been officially eliminated; though to be fair, it never ever got started.
- The bill also provides additional flexibility to Medicare Advantage plans to include more social supports and create specific benefits for certain health conditions. It even allows for some expansion into Long Term Care, something that is NOT covered by original Medicare even though many seniors assume that it is. It is hard to know how the insurers that offer Medicare Advantage plans will choose to take advantage of this flexibility, but we should see some creative ideas with the 2019 and/or 2020 plans. Stay tuned.
- On the down side, the bill does eliminate a modest planned increase in payments to doctors. This may not seem like a big deal, but doctors, especially primary care doctors, do not do well under Medicare. This could lead to fewer doctors accepting original Medicare, driving their patients into a Medicare Advantage plan.
There has already been a lot written about this budget and even the impact of the changes to Medicare. Clearly adding costs when the USA is already amassing significant deficits does not make sense. With that, we can safely assume that we will see changes which will, in some cases, offset these changes in the future.
VibrantUSA will be conducting Medicare 101 seminars throughout the year where the latest is shared with our customers and we are planning on some new methods of sharing information on 2019 plans as we get into the next Annual Election Period (AEP).