By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Monthly premiums for popular private insurance plans through Medicare are only inching up next year, the Obama administration said Sept. 19, trumpeting good news for skeptical older voters on a closely watched election-year issue.
Republican Mitt Romney has warned that cuts in President Barack Obama’s health care law would hobble programs such as Medicare Advantage, the private insurance option that’s a thriving part of Medicare. But deputy Medicare administrator Jonathan Blum said such dire predictions have not proved to be true.
The program “is stronger than ever,” Blum told reporters. “Beneficiaries should expect the overall quality of care is improving. … Also, cost growth remains controlled.”
Average monthly premiums for Medicare Advantage plans will rise by $1.47 in 2013 to $32.59, said Blum. When premiums and out-of-pocket costs such as co-payments are combined, Medicare estimates that beneficiaries will actually spend less on average.
Nearly 1.5 million more seniors are expected to join the plans for next year, continuing a strong growth trend. That would bring total enrollment to 14.5 million, approaching 30 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries. Most major insurance companies have a stake in the market.
Some beneficiaries will see their premiums and cost sharing go up; others will see a decrease. They can shop around for a better deal during open enrollment season, which starts Oct. 15.
Indeed, if past experience repeats itself and beneficiaries switch to lower-price plans, Medicare says the average increase in premiums will be held to just 57 cents a month in 2013.
Republicans dismissed Wednesday’s good news, saying the effect of Medicare cuts is being temporarily masked by an $8-billion bonus program the administration started last year. The program awards quality bonuses to Medicare Advantage plans rated merely average, and its legality has been questioned by Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional agency.