CMS' Verma blasts Medicare for all, touts efforts on drug costs
- Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma stepped into politics Tuesday — speaking to a ballroom packed full of healthcare leaders, providers and other stakeholders — railing against an idea touted by some Democrats to expand Medicare to people younger than 65.
- Addressing the crowd gathered for America's Health Insurance Plans annual Medicare conference, she argued that the Medicare for all notion "threatens the solvency of the program." Several Democrats have offered their own versions of so-called Medicare for all, though they differ in key respects.
- Verma also highlighted the administration's efforts to stem rising drug costs, including Monday's proposal to force drugmakers to include list prices in consumer advertisements.
While Medicare for all is an idea embodied in several draft bills conceived by Democrats, its prospects in the short term are slim to none, even if Democrats win back one house of Congress in the mid-term elections next month.
Medicare Advantage (MA), however, is growing and has been a lucrative business for payers.
Verma said CMS expects an all-time record enrollment of 22.6 million seniors in MA next year, an 11.5% increase from the year prior. About 37% of Medicare beneficiaries are choosing MA plans.
Verma touted the administration's current efforts to curtail costs and add greater flexibility for health plans sponsors operating MA plans.
One of the most significant changes to the program, Verma said, was allowing MA plan sponsors to offer supplemental benefits beyond dental and vision. Plans will be able to offer nontraditional benefits such as adult day care, meals or in-home care — all of which are designed at improving overall health, she said.
So far, 270 plans are implementing these new benefits for 2019, Verma said, touting the record enrollment.
"The lesson here is a basic law of economics: Choice increases competition, and competition drives up value," she said.
Also mentioned by Verma was the recently signed law ending the so-called gag clause and allowing pharmacists to tell patients when it may be cheaper to pay for medications out-of-pocket rather than through their insurance.
She hinted that there may be more options for Medicare Part D to lower prices. "We are working toward additional regulatory flexibility in this area, so stay tuned," she said.