If private health plans are supposedly so great at delivering high-quality care while holding down costs, why does the government have to keep subsidizing them so lavishly to participate in the Medicare program?
About a fifth of elderly Americans now belong to private Medicare Advantage plans, which-thanks to government subsidies-often charge less or offer more than traditional Medicare. As Congress struggles to find savings that could offset the costs of other important health programs, it should take a long and hard look at those subsidies.
The authoritative Medicare Payment Advisory Commission estimates that the government pays private plans 12 percent more, on average, than the same services would cost in the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program. The private plans use some of this money to make themselves more attractive to beneficiaries-by reducing premiums or adding benefits not covered by basic Medicare-and siphon off the rest to add to profits and help cover the plans' high administrative costs.
Congress ought to eliminate the subsidies completely unless it is willing to subsidize the same benefits-at enormous cost-for the far greater number of people enrolled in standard Medicare. It is time to level the playing field and force private plans to really compete with traditional Medicare.