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Senator Forces Correction to Obamacare Misinformation

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has forced a public correction to misinformation put out by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary at a speech to seniors on Obamacare.

At a recent speech in Orlando, Fla., HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claimed Medicare Advantage plans under Obamacare would be expanded.

In prepared remarks for an October 1, 2010, speech at AARP’s “Orlando@50+” event, Sebelius said:  “Well, the doom and gloom crowd was wrong.  Last week, our department announced the Medicare Advantage plans for 2011.  Here’s what we learned … there will be more Medicare Advantage plans to choose from.”

Grassley’s office pointed out the inaccuracy of the statement to HHS.  For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, under HHS, just noted that 920,000 beneficiaries will be forced to find a new Medicare Advantage plan in the coming year because of contract terminations and service area reductions.  Analysis of the “CMS 2011 Plan Landscape” shows there will be on average 36 percent fewer Medicare Advantage choices in 2011 than there were in 2010. In Iowa, 21,000 beneficiaries will be unable to keep their current Medicare Advantage plan.  

“Regardless of how you feel about Medicare Advantage, the agency in charge of the program has an obligation to give accurate information about people’s benefits,” Grassley said.  “Misinformation fuels anxiety about health care choices and adds to mistrust of government.”

Grassley has secured a public disclaimer from HHS after pointing out the misinformation in the secretary’s statement. Since the inaccurate statement was e-mailed to thousands of hhs.gov subscribers, Grassley is seeking a correction in the same manner.  AARP has indicated that it will distribute a correction to those who attended the conference.  The remarks were posted on HHS’ website and sent out to a news subscriber list.

HHS had quietly edited the online version of the speech to say “there will be more meaningful choices” under health care reform. Grassley sent a letter to the agency, seeking a “prompt correction with AARP to all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries letting them know about fewer MA choices, higher costs and fewer benefits in the coming years.”

So far, the agency has added the following disclaimer to the edited speech text at hhs.gov: “Please note, this text has been updated as of Tuesday October 5 to correct an error that was in the original remarks posted as prepared for delivery.  We apologize for any confusion.”

The text of Grassley’s letter:

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, D.C.  20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

As Secretary of Health and Human Services, you have been highly critical of any misinformation surrounding the new health care law.  I share your passion for making sure that the American people have the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding changes to our health care system.  For that reason, I would like to bring to your attention a statement you made on October 1, 2010 in a speech at AARP’s “Orlando@50+” event.  In your prepared remarks, which were downloaded off the HHS website, and are attached, it says:

Well, the doom and gloom crowd was wrong.  Last week, our department announced the Medicare Advantage plans for 2011.  Here’s what we learned … there will be more Medicare Advantage plans to choose from.

Last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the “2011 Plan Landscape” which directly contradicts the statement that seniors will have more Medicare Advantage (MA) choices in 2011.  In fact, CMS noted that 920,000 beneficiaries will be forced to find a new MA plan in the coming year because of contract terminations and service area reductions. 

This CMS announcement was followed by real world examples, including recent reports that Harvard Pilgrim in Massachusetts is canceling policies for 22,000 Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.  And in my home state of Iowa, 21,000 beneficiaries will be unable to keep their current MA plan.  Analysis of CMS data has shown that in 2011 seniors will have 36 percent fewer plan options than they did in 2010 making it impossible to substantiate your claim that “there will be more Medicare Advantage plans to choose from” in the coming year. 

Your speech also failed to note that the $200 billion in cuts as a result of the partisan health care overhaul will decrease projected enrollment by 50 percent by 2017 according to the Chief Actuary at CMS.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also assumed extra benefits, like reduced cost-sharing, chronic care management, and dental and vision services, would be cut in half.  

I find it particularly troubling that the section of your speech dedicated to setting the record straight and criticizing those concerned about the future of the MA program contains substantial misinformation and omissions.  Therefore, I request that you issue a prompt correction with AARP to all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries letting them know about fewer MA choices, higher costs and fewer benefits in the coming years.

We owe it to 11 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries to make sure they are aware of the coming changes to this popular program.  Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator

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Connie Hair writes a weekly column for HUMAN EVENTS. She is a former speechwriter for Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

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