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First on CNN: Insurers launch new ad to stop Medicare Advantage cuts

By Chris Frates, CNN Investigative Correspondent
updated 11:04 AM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Insurers aim to prevent Medicare Advantage cuts with TV, lobbying campaign
  • Policy makers in Washington will soon set 2015 rates, which were cut 6.5% this year
  • TV ad includes seniors who remind lawmakers, up for election in the fall, that they vote

Washington (CNN) -- The insurance industry is launching a seven-figure advertising, grassroots and lobbying campaign to persuade Washington officials not to cut Medicare Advantage funding next year. A key piece of that campaign is a new television ad, obtained first by CNN.

The ad, which will begin airing Thursday, comes as policy makers begin to set payment rates for next year. The preliminary rates for Medicare Advantage program, which covers seniors through private insurance, will be announced next month, and final rates will be set in April.

The ad campaign is part of a lobbying and media blitz by the insurance industry to avoid cuts to their Medicare Advantage payments. The Affordable Care Act cut the Medicare Advantage program by $200 billion. The law and other policy changes cut the program by 6.5% this year.

Insurance officials say the cuts are already forcing insurers to cut their doctor networks, and they warn that further cuts will increase cost and limit access to seniors

"If the Medicare Advantage plan is cut once again, seniors are going to find out in October that their costs are going up, their benefits are being reduced and they have fewer choices of providers and fewer coverage options," said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the insurance industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.

In the TV ad, seniors tell Washington that they depend on their Medicare Advantage coverage and will spread the word.

"No more cuts to Medicare Advantage," Evelyn Harrell said.

Added Mary Kay Boerner, "You know, we vote."

Insurers believe that timing will help their cause. Most seniors will find out about the new rates during open enrollment in October -- only weeks before congressional elections. And insurers are betting that lawmakers won't want to be explaining to 14 million seniors why their health care costs more or their benefits have decreased.

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