Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

Medicare Brochure is Propaganda

Posted on June 13, 2010

The other day, I received a nice envelope from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with a nice brochure inside: “Medicare and the New Health Care Law: What It Means to You.”  I’m one of those Americans who are 65 or older, so I’m a part of Medicare and I was interested to read the brochure because I spent a lot of time on the new health care law.  But what I read in the brochure didn’t bear very much relationship to the way I understood the law that I voted against on Christmas Eve at the end of last year when the Senate passed it.  Here are a few examples of the claims it makes and what the new law really does:

BROCHURE CLAIM: The brochure claims in the first paragraph that the new health care law will result in “increased quality health care.”  Well, that would mean to me, I would think, that I would continue to have at least the coverage that I have today – and hopefully more.

FACT: But Medicare’s own chief actuary noted in an April 22nd memorandum that without intervening legislation to correct the payment cuts in the new law, some providers would “end participation in the program” with the effect of “possibly jeopardizing access for beneficiaries”—that doesn’t sound like increased quality health care to me.

BROCHURE CLAIM: The second paragraph of the brochure says the new health care law will keep “Medicare strong and solvent.”

FACT: Now here’s the truth: the $529 billion in cuts to Medicare—no one disputes that the law calls for those—are being used to pay for a $1 trillion health care bill, not to shore up Medicare.  Common sense says that if you take $529 billion out of Medicare over the first ten years or $1 trillion out of Medicare over ten years after it’s fully implemented, and you spend almost all of that on something other than Medicare, that’s not the way to make Medicare more solvent.

BROCHURE CLAIM: The second page of the brochure says “if you’re in the Medicare Advantage plan, you will still receive guaranteed Medicare benefits.”

FACT: This is one of the most disingenuous comments in the brochure.  If you read that and are one of the more than 11 million people on Medicare Advantage, you’d think, “My Medicare Advantage must be okay.”  But the truth is, Medicare Advantage plans will have “less generous benefit packages,” according to Medicare’s own chief actuary.

BROCHURE CLAIM: It says “the new law preserves and strengthens Medicare.”

FACT: That’s disingenuous, too, because the new law does not include paying doctors who serve Medicare patients the proper compensation.

I’m very disappointed that the Obama Administration, in its effort to make the health care law sound better, would send out what amounts to propaganda.  There is a federal law against propaganda—it says that annual appropriations can’t be used “for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States.”  I don’t know whether this violates the law, but it doesn’t tell the truth in the way that we Medicare beneficiaries deserve to have the truth told to us about what the health care law does.