Bert Skellie, of Decatur, Ga., protests for Medicaid expansion outside the Wild Hog Supper, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Atlanta.
David Goldman/AP Photo

GOP for and against Medicare cost-savings

Updated
If you receive press releases from congressional Republicans, and your inbox seemed unusually full on Friday afternoon, there’s a reason for that.
The Obama administration ignited a new election-year controversy Friday when regulators handed down fresh cuts to Medicare Advantage (MA).
 
Next year, plans in the program will see their payments cut by at least 2 percent on average between ObamaCare and a regular annual update, the announcement stated.
 
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) argued that the reductions will help to strengthen the program – an increasingly popular alternative to traditional Medicare – and guard against waste.
Republicans, despite already having embraced the Obama administration’s Medicare cost savings into their own budget plan, did their very best to pretend to be outraged.
 
Even on a surface level, the GOP condemnations are hard to take seriously. For five years, Republicans have argued, “The Obama administration must do something to get health care spending and entitlements under control! Our future depends on it! Why won’t the big-spending liberal do something?”
 
And as the Obama administration moves forward on cost-savings in Medicare, these exact same Republicans – the folks who voted to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher scheme – are now comfortable arguing, “Obama is cutting Medicare! We’re infuriated by the Democratic president’s willingness to spend less on seniors’ health care needs!”
 
C’mon, congressional Republicans. Show a little self-respect.
 
But wait, it gets worse.
 
The specific cost-savings the Obama administration announced last week did not come as a surprise. On the contrary, they were entirely expected – the only surprise on Friday was that the changes to Medicare reimbursement represented smaller cuts than the insurance industry expected.
 
But why cut at all? Because for decades, it’s been obvious that Washington has been overpaying insurers through the Medicare Advantage program, and the Obama administration is finally trying to get this under control. Insurers, naturally, aren’t pleased.
 
But it’s Republicans on Capitol Hill who’ve been complaining the loudest, no doubt looking for some kind of campaign message in which they’ll argue that the left-wing socialist who wants socialized medicine is also a right-wing brute who wants to undermine the nation’s socialized insurance system for seniors. It won’t make any sense, but the GOP will no doubt make the argument anyway.
 
Jonathan Cohn did a nice job capturing the larger context, explaining why Republicans “have actually found a way to be more hypocritical than before.”
For the last few weeks, Republicans and their allies have been in high dudgeon about Obamacare’s so-called risk corridor program, in which the federal government will subsidize insurers that take heavy losses for the next three years. Republicans and their allies have decried risk corridors as a “taxpayer bailout” of the insurers. But the policy justification for risk corridors is straightforward and, even to some conservatives, incontrovertible: They will ease the transition to a newly regulated insurance market, so that it’s possible to provide universal coverage through a system of private plans. And unlike the additional Medicare Advantage payments, the risk corridor program might actually end up being a net boon to the taxpayers, since the government also shares in unexpected insurer gains. (The Congressional Budget Office has actually predicted as much, though, as with many such projections, there’s a lot of uncertainty there.)
 
Maybe Republicans think that’s insufficient reason to pay the Obamacare insurers money – fine. But then how can they simultaneously insist government keep paying higher fees to Medicare insurers, given the case for them is a lot more dubious? […]
 
[T]he current Republican position makes no sense whatsoever, unless the GOP’s real priorities are (a) opposing anything the Obama Administration supports (b) sucking money away from the traditional, government-run Medicare program (c) stopping programs and spending that benefits the non-elderly uninsured.
Put me down for “all of the above.”
 

Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Obamacare

GOP for and against Medicare cost-savings

Updated