Does Joe Biden Really Want to Cut Medicare? One of President Joe Biden’s most frequent applause lines in recent months has involved accusing Republicans in Congress of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare.
In a particularly viral moment in the State of the Union address earlier this month, Biden made exactly that claim, even over boos from Republicans in the chamber.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” Biden said. “I won’t let that happen. Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors.”
Republicans have denied that they plan to make cuts to Social Security, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said at the end of January that both Social Security and Medicare are “off the table” in debt ceiling talks.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden is taking another action that opponents are calling a cut to Medicare. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.
According to Roll Call, the Biden administration is fighting with both Republicans and the insurance industry for overpayments to Medicare Advantage.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, per Roll Call, have released rules “aimed at reducing overpayments to Advantage plans while increasing oversight.” However, headed into debt ceiling talks, the GOP is positioning those changes as cuts to Medicare — something Biden has vowed not to do.
“Joe Biden is trying to gut Medicare benefits. Seniors can’t trust Democrats to protect Medicare,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Philip Letsou said last week, in an attempt to turn the Democrats’ Social Security messaging around on them.
In addition, an industry group called Better Medicare Alliance, which represents big insurers such as Humana and UnitedHealth Group, has begun running ads making a similar accusation.
“For 30 million seniors, Medicare Advantage is Medicare. Tell the White House not to cut it,” the ads say.
However, per Roll Call, David Lipschutz, associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, defended the Biden administration’s approach.
“Implying that what they perceive to be cuts to Medicare Advantage payments runs afoul of President Biden’s promise or pledge not to cut Medicare … that’s disingenuous,” Lipschutz told Roll Call. “It’s conflating a stand against indiscriminate budget cuts to the Medicare program with a regulator trying to more accurately pay one of its contractors.”
Medicare Part C has been around since the late 1990s and represents an alternative way of paying for benefits that involve the private sector. Also at play here is the semantic question of whether a smaller-than-usual increase from year to year should be considered a cut.
For instance, the Administration is proposing a 1% increase in Medicare Advantage payments for the fiscal year 2024, after an 8.5% increase the previous year.
The Department of Health and Human Services, meanwhile, released a fact sheet earlier this month about the Medicare Advantage changes, arguing that private industry must “share the obligation” to deliver health care for seniors.
“While Congressional Republicans support measures to put Medicare on the chopping block and roll back increased benefits offered to seniors and people with disabilities through the Inflation Reduction Act, the Administration’s commitment to the 65 million Americans with Medicare, and all the beneficiaries in the future, is unwavering,” the fact sheet said.
The fact sheet went on to rip what it called “industry-funded reporting” about the alleged cuts.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is not proposing cuts to Medicare Advantage… This year, it will start recovering improper payments made to insurance companies in Medicare Advantage through audits. Recovering these improper payments and returning this money to the Medicare Trust Funds will protect the fiscal sustainability of Medicare and allow the program to better serve seniors and people with disabilities, today and in the future.”
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.