Over the weekend, away from Washington on a weeklong congressional recess, Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Thune of South Dakota, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Roberts of Kansas signed onto a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that criticizes a CMS news release last month that announced more than 25 million Medicare beneficiaries had received free preventive services under the landmark law through November 2013.
GOP senators want HHS to clarify who's paying for 'free' services
Not so, say the senators, who contend the announcement is misleading for two reasons. First, they argue that someone is paying for those benefits. Next, they highlight that while the announcement touts a small expansion of services to seniors with fee-for-service Medicare, it fails to mention that the law cut about $716 billion from Medicare plans and providers to pay for other government programs in the Affordable Care Act.
The letter continues by noting that the CMS chief actuary has concluded that 15% of Medicare Part A providers—hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospices and some health agencies—might not be able to sustain their operations in the next 10 years because of the cuts.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers wrote that they have already warned that the department was “falsely marketing specific services provided through Medicare” and acknowledge that HHS has made modest improvements in that area. “While we identified problems with the press release outlined above, we were encouraged that the release included a more specific and accurate statement in discussing how many people received 'at least one preventative services at no cost to them' (emphasis added.)” they wrote. “It is more accurate to discuss the lack of cost-sharing for a beneficiary than to suggest there are no costs borne to taxpayers,” they added.
The senators requested that Sebelius instruct her department to change the online version of the Dec. 17 news release. They also want HHS to review its archive of news releases and take out the use of “free” benefits in Medicare because of the ACA, as well as to stop referring to “free” benefits in Medicare related to the law in the future.
Federal offices were closed Monday so no one from HHS was available to comment on the letter.
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