Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Are We Supposed to Say Thank You?

Friday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Insurance industry lobbyists had their News Releases written, statements prepared and happy faces ready to announce their great news...7 insurance copanies which sell private Medicare "Advantage" plans have voluntarily agreed to stop marketing them. This is "spin" for we got caught with our hands in the cookie jar so we better propose a fix more to our liking than the one Congress will impose on us.

These insurers, many specifically accused of defrauding and manipulating seniors nationwide into private Medicare plans they can't use or afford, or worse illegally signing seniors up without their knowledge, say they'll now be take a voluntary marketing break until CMS is sure these plans are actually following the law. Shouldn't CMS have been doing this from the beginning? Shouldn't these "controls" have been in place and enforced before coast to coast headlines and Congressional hearings detailing thousands of cases of marketing fraud made this nationwide scandal too much even for the insurance industry to ignore? For seniors who were unwillingly shifted out of Medicare and into these private plans, those controls might have saved them untold grief and expense.

Is this voluntary (and temporary) marketing ban the only price these private companies will pay for this widespread con of American seniors? Here's what CMS said in it's release:

“While we note that most health insurance agents are helpful and responsible in describing and explaining choices to beneficiareis, there are a few bad actors that need to be removed from the system for good," said Leslie V. Norwalk, Esq., Acting Administrator of CMS. "This voluntary agreement demonstrates that CMS and the plans are stepping up to ensure that deceptive marketing practices end immediately, and that beneficiaries understand what they are purchasing."

Not surprisingly, this late awakening to the need for oversight isn't impressing everyone on Capitol Hill. Including Ways & Means Health Subcommitte Chairman Pete Stark who is quoted as saying:

"The administration's response is to allow private companies to determine which crimes they'll plead to and which sentences they'll serve. This will do virtually nothing to protect Medicare beneficiaries and is a pathetic attempt to pre-empt congressional action."

And so, seniors probably won't be sending out any "Thank You" cards to CMS and the insurance industry just yet.

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