* Ad seeks senior citizen support for industry lobby
* Narrator fails to mention that cuts are aimed at insurers
WASHINGTON, March 6 The U.S. health insurance
industry is escalating its lobbying battle against a proposed
Medicare Advantage pay cut to insurers by launching a television
and online advertising campaign to garner public support among
the program's 14 million beneficiaries.
America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a leading
Washington-based trade group, said a 30-second commercial titled
"Too Much" would be shown in a dozen states and the Washington,
D.C., area in hopes of dissuading the Obama administration from
imposing a 2.3 percent cut in government payments next year.
The commercial, presented by an industry-sponsored group
called the Coalition for Medicare Choices, fails to mention that
the payment cuts are aimed at insurers, not beneficiaries.
Instead, a woman narrator warns of "$50 to $90 a month in
cuts for each of the 14 million seniors who count on Medicare
Advantage. Seniors will pay more, get less and lose choices."
Medicare spending is currently a top issue in Washington.
The administration is moving forward with billions in program
savings under President Barack Obama's healthcare law, while
Republicans and Democrats in Congress argue over which party's
deficit-reduction strategy would best preserve the 48-year-old
program for the elderly and disabled.
The ad also refers to healthcare reform, which is unpopular
with many seniors, and the package of automated federal spending
cuts known as the "sequester," which seeks a 2 percent cut from
Medicare providers, including hospitals.
AHIP declined to say how much the TV campaign would cost.
Medicare Advantage allows beneficiaries to receive Medicare
benefits through private insurance plans. The program has long
sought to ensure industry participation by paying more than the
cost of traditional fee-for-service Medicare.
The 2010 healthcare law seeks to bring Medicare Advantage
payments more into line with fee-for-service. Last week, an
administration official told a Senate panel that the average
payment has already fallen from 114 percent of traditional
Medicare costs to 104 percent for 2013.
Administration officials also point to a slowdown in per
capita Medicare spending in recent years, which has lowered the
rate of growth to a level below that of the general economy.
Meanwhile, insurers say higher payments help Medicare
Advantage plans offer more benefits, such as prevention
programs, that traditional Medicare does not.
AHIP said the ad began airing Wednesday on cable television
in the Washington, D.C., area. Different versions will run on TV
or online in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New York,
North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is expected
to announce final payment rates for 2014 on April 1.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Dan Grebler)