National

Medicare Advantage benefits could be cut

MIAMI — Insurers constantly caution seniors that their Medicare Advantage perks such as hearing aids, dental payments and even gym memberships will fizzle if Democrats get their way and cut subsidies for them.

But tens of billions of Medicare dollars funneled through insurers also pay for extras that never reach beneficiaries: multimillion-dollar salaries; executive retreats in Hawaii, Scotland and Cancun; and massive expenditures on marketing to lure more customers to the privately administered Advantage plans that serve as an alternative to government-provided Medicare.

The government-subsidized benefits that seniors on Advantage plans receive — often at premiums lower than Medicare premiums — are real, and are legitimately in danger in some cases if Democrats succeed in their health care overhaul.

Medicare Advantage subsidies are on the chopping block to pay for the overhaul. Though there are marked differences between House and Senate versions, both bills would lower payments to private Medicare Advantage plans, which on average cost the government 14 percent more than traditional Medicare.

The harshest critics of the Advantage program say patients are exchanging hassle-free coverage for a plan with cheap perks that may ultimately deny them necessary treatment.

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