This week President Trump signed an executive order that will make Medicare encourage seniors to consider enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan instead of its traditional coverage. More than a third of seniors are now enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, where private insurers manage benefits on behalf of the government.
However, his administration has not specified how it plans to implement Trump's order to steer seniors away from traditional Medicare.
Part of the order will allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to practice medicine to the full extent of their training in an attempt to expand medical services to poorly served rural areas. However, expanding the scope of the medical practice of nurse practitioners and physicians assistants has been controversial in some areas in the past.
Some claim that doctors organizations have lobbied to prevent the expanded practice of the two groups because it takes patients away from them, while others have argued that nurse practitioners and physicians assistants simply do not have sufficient medical training to expand the types of services they provide.
The order directs Medicare to increase telehealth services for seniors – whereby a patient can speak with a doctor either by phone or through one of the various social media communications instead of having to travel to an office.
In addition, there are plans to expand the number of benefits offered through Medicare Advantage plans.
Trump's order is intended to help constrain the cost of Medicare, which has increased significantly as the large “baby boomer” generation has retired and will continue to retire. It comes on top of other changes the Trump administration has made to increase supplemental services for seniors through things such as in-home services, transportation to grocery stores and park passes.
However, critics have argued that the government overpays insurance companies that run the Medicare Advantage plans and there could be limited provider networks.
Another part of the President's order directs his administration to expand access for seniors enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan to medical savings accounts (MSAs), which have tax advantages for those who use them. Part of the plan is to find ways for enrollees to get either cash rewards or rebates as an incentive for using Medicare Advantage.
* * *
Even though the news this week has been consumed by the House impeachment investigation of President Trump, there was actually a sign of forward movement regarding prescription drug prices.
On Tuesday House Democratic aides met with senior Trump Administration aides to discuss drug price legislation. Curbing the sky-rocketing costs of prescription drugs remains a priority for President Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in spite of the impeachment investigation.
It was made clear that this was not a negotiating session but rather a fact-finding session, where the White House aides wanted to learn the details of the Pelosi legislation that was introduced recently.
Pelosi's bill would authorize Medicare to negotiate prices, require drug makers to pay rebates if they raise prices more than the inflation rate, and limit seniors’ co-pays for medicines to $2,000 a year.
According to reports, While House aides asked detailed questions about how her bill would work. For example, what would it take for Medicare to set up a new office to undertake the complex work of negotiating prices for top tier medications?
Interestingly enough, even though the Pelosi bill was met with universal scorn among Republican members of Congress, President Trump has not publicly criticized the legislation. As long as they're talking, hope remains alive for action this year. In the midst of all the rancor we see in Washington every day, that is good news.
For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.