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SPOTLIGHT
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Kobach wants to end Medicare benefits

Published on -6/12/2014, 9:22 AM

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In a March 8 article published by the Topeka Capital-Journal, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said, "If Medicare beneficiaries want to protect public funding of their health care, Obamacare is the problem, not the solution. Obamacare cuts more than $700 billion from Medicare to pay for Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies."

Kobach continued: "The Health Care Compact which I support and which is before the Legislature, is an interstate compact that transfers authority, responsibility and control of federal health care funding from the federal government to member states.

"Kansas can use the Health Care Compact to shield Medicare from the disaster of Obamacare."

Kobach's wish to remove Kansas Medicare beneficiaries (approximately 448,000) from the federal government's guaranteed funding and benefit program came true when Gov. Sam Brownback signed the House-Health Compact Care bill into law in April.

But, Kobach's misleading statement about how it would benefit them is false.

Falsehood 1: "If Medicare beneficiaries want to protect public funding of their health care, Obama care is the problem, not the solution," Kobach said.

Fact: Obamacare, known formally as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, made no guaranteed Medicare benefit cuts to either traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage. Refer to Title III, Part III in Subtitle G, section 3,602 of the Affordable Care Act legislation. In fact, benefits were enhanced.

The public funding for Medicare benefits are guaranteed by the federal government. There is no such guarantee under Kobach's proposed Health Care Compact group. Medicare benefits already are protected by public funding, so how could the Affordable Care Act be the problem? Kobach's statement makes no sense at all.

Falsehood 2: "Obamacare cuts more than $700 billion from Medicare to pay for Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies," Kobach said.

Fact: A total of $156 billion of taxpayer federal funding subsidies to insurance companies will be cut during the next 10 years from the private Medicare Advantage program administered by insurance companies because beneficiaries in this program have been receiving 14 percent more in funding per member than traditional Medicare beneficiaries.

The cuts were recommended by Med Pac (Medicare's nonpartisan watchdog analysts) because, "In 2009, Medicare spent roughly $14 billion more per Medicare Advantage members using taxpayer subsidies than it would have spent if these same Advantage members had stayed with Medicare's traditional fee for service program."

The Med Pac commission noted the issue is about "fairness," not benefit cuts. The insurance companies were not using the subsidies to improve health outcomes for members but used portions for administrative expenses to increase their profit margins.

The Affordable Care Act is not cutting funding to pay for "insurance subsidies" as Kobach noted, the cuts were made to take away these unfair subsidies and level the playing field for all Medicare beneficiaries, not just the select ones in private plans.

The remaining funding cuts of approximately $544 billion were made to reduce Medicare spending not to "pay for Medicaid expansion," as Kobach said. In 2012, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's budget assumed the same overall $700 billion in Medicare cuts for all the same reasons to cut the out-of-control Medicare spending.

Falsehood 3: "Kansans can use the Health Care Compact to shield Medicare from the disaster of Obamacare," Kobach said.

Fact: The Health Care Compact would not "shield Medicare" as Kobach believes. It would harm it. Guaranteed Medicare benefits provided by the federal government would be lost, and the federal funding of Medicare dollars would travel to Kansas in the form of block grants. With no background or training in health care management, Kobach, Brownback and their handpicked cronies in the Legislature now would decide how to spend your Medicare dollars.

Kobach implies Medicare itself was a "disaster of Obamacare." There is no truth in this statement because the Affordable Care Act added significant improved benefits for Medicare beneficiaries. In light of the projected huge revenue shortfalls due to the governors' ill-advised tax cuts, the Kansas Health Care Compact would be in no position to maintain and fund these new Medicare benefits already granted under the Affordable Care Act legislation.

These new benefits include: (1) Elimination of the doughnut hole in the Part D Prescription program by 2020. Since passage of ACA, 7.9 million Medicare members have saved more than $9.9 billion on prescription drug costs. (2) Free preventative services were added with no out-of-pocket costs for flu shots, and screening for cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases. More than 37 million Medicare folks have benefitted from these services during 2013. (3) Medicare Advantage premiums have declined by 10 percent and enrollment has increased by 33 percent, with more than 15 million members enrolled in private plans.

In addition, Medicare Advantage private insurance providers now must spend no more than 15 percent for administrative costs and profits, and 85 percent of the funding must go to improve benefits and health outcomes. Now, additional federal funding rewards will go to the insurance plans who achieve these goals.

Kobach has gained national notoriety by advising other states such as Arizona and Alabama on self-deportation laws, voter ID registration, and serves as counsel for the Immigration Law Reform Institute, and is the legal arm for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. In his spare time, he serves as secretary of state for Kansas.

Now, he's added Medicare to his list. It's interesting the secretary has appointed himself as a spokesperson on health insurance matters more suited to be handled by our highly experienced, and well-respected Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger -- who was elected to serve and protect the Medicare insurance interests of Kansans. Prager already has said, "The Health Care Compact would jeopardize the coverage and benefits that seniors have come to count on and would be a serious mistake to turn the Medicare program over to state control."

But unfortunately, Brownback, Kobach and the Legislature did not heed her advice.

Larry Weigel, a Hays native, has 25 years' experience in the financial services industry and started a national Medicare fee based consulting service in 2009 to help

seniors understand Medicare.

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