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LEVER WEEKLY: Medicare Disadvantage

Nov 27, 2022 Matthew Cunningham-Cook
The privatization of one of America’s most beloved programs will come with huge costs — unless it is stopped in its tracks.
LEVER WEEKLY: Medicare Disadvantage
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

This is Lever Weekly, a recap of our work from the past week. If you only read one email from us all week, this should be it.

Below you will find a breakdown of our reporting, podcasts, videos, and live events — a feature now open to all subscribers. Following that, we are providing paid subscribers with an original column, written by a member of The Lever, connecting the dots on our coverage to deliver important takeaways.

In this week’s column, exclusively for paid subscribers, Matthew Cunningham-Cook explores the privatization of the country’s national health insurance program for seniors under the guise of Medicare Advantage — and why it’s a catastrophe of epic proportions, even though corporate media refuses to see it that way.

Stuff The Lever Reported This Week:

Why Is AARP Boosting Medicare Privatization?“The state of affairs lays bare a conflict inside AARP, the major advocacy organization for Americans 50 and older, over how to approach the regulation of Medicare Advantage, the for-profit version of Medicare.”

Ticketmaster Faces The Music“The online ticketing giant Ticketmaster has been using its monopoly power for years to abuse artists, fans, and venues alike — but now, thanks to a perfect storm of political and cultural factors, not to mention an army of Taylor Swift fans, it could face a long-overdue government thumping.”

YOU LOVE TO SEE IT: Amazon Ordered To Cease And Desist “This decision is a massive victory for Amazon workers nationwide — protection from retaliation is especially important as those workers enter the grueling peak season in Amazon’s warehouses.”

Stuff To Watch & Listen To:

LEVER TIME: Ticketmaster’s Monopoly vs. Taylor Swift Fans“With the help of Eve 6 frontman Max Collins, we break down last week’s Ticketmaster incident involving an army of Taylor Swift fans, who it turns out may be our best hope for antitrust enforcement.”

LEVER TIME PREMIUM: Gary Hart On The State Of American Politics“David sits down with former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart for a long-form conversation about the evolution of American politics and his new book about saving American democracy.” (This week’s segment is open to everyone.)

Medicare Disadvantage

By Matthew Cunningham-Cook

This week, I reported on chicanery behind senior advocacy group AARP — responsible for advocating for its 38 million members — selling Medicare Advantage plans, and making up to $800 million last year while doing so. All the while, their advocacy arm in Washington is soft-pedaling any critiques of Medicare Advantage, while hospital lobbyists join public interest advocates in demanding reforms to the program.

Medicare, the government health insurance program for those over 64 as well as those with a disability status, is extraordinarily popular, with 94 percent of Medicare beneficiaries supporting the program. But Medicare Advantage, the for-profit version of Medicare, has proved to be detrimental to Medicare patients and taxpayers alike. A recent report by the Inspector General of the Health and Human Services Department found that 18 percent of claims denied by Medicare Advantage plans in one week in June 2019 were done so wrongfully. Meanwhile, these plans are systematically overbilling the government.

As of now, there are 29 million Americans on Medicare Advantage — or about 48 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries. And that number is growing all the time: By next year, a majority of America’s seniors will be on these privatized Medicare plans.  

Most corporate news outlets have avoided scrutinizing the growth of Medicare Advantage, likely deeming it not “sexy” enough to capture attention or clicks. Maybe even worse, The New York Times recently covered the differences between Medicare and Medicare Advantage in a fluffy service piece, blithely weighing the pros and cons of the wholesale privatization of one of the country’s most sacrosanct institutions in the same way it compares brands of underwear and ice scrapers.

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