A key Senate panel continued to apply pressure to the Medicare Advantage program last week, lashing out at the CMS top brass for not doing enough to protect seniors from the aggressive and sometimes illegal tactics used by private health insurance companies and their sales teams.
The hearing was the second in two weeks by the influential Senate Finance Committee, which has oversight of Medicare and Medicaid, and is the clearest signal yet that its Democratic leader plans to introduce a legislative fix this year rather than rely on a patchwork of regulatory ones.
Private plans and their agents are pushing private Medicare plans using methods that are aggressive and, too often, fraudulent, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). CMS guidelines are just not enough to stop the abuses.
But CMS acting Administrator Kerry Weems strongly defended the agency's stepped-up oversight of the program. Weems also hinted that tougher regulations and guidelines would be forthcoming, but demurred when asked about a legislative fix. We think we can regulate this product, he said.
Both Senate and House panels have heard horror stories in recent months from seniors who say they have fallen victim to aggressive salespeople who they say play fast-and-loose with the truth to lure seniors out of traditional Medicare and into more lucrative private fee-for-service plans.
Since taking the helm at CMS last September, Weems has implemented a number of enforcement tools meant to rein in shady sales and marketing tactics used by some agents.
I believe our increased oversight is paying off, Weems told the committee. Let me say that I am personally committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure that people on Medicare are not misled or harmed by Medicare Advantage plans or their agents.