Earlier this week, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a well-established health care research organization with a reputation of being unbiased, released a report stating that under a premium support system, an average of just under 60% of seniors covered by Medicare would pay higher costs for health care. I do not question the contents of the report as it is written. What I do question are the assumptions made and the timing of the release of the report. These two factors make me wonder if the foundation has not put its reputation at risk.
In the executive summary, the foundation states the study is a general analysis of premium support systems but then specifically mentions the Romney-Ryan plan. "This approach is similar to the premium support proposal included in Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) budget proposal for FY2013 that was embraced by presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and previously included in the Wyden-Ryan and Domenici-Rivlin proposals.” It goes on to say that the study is not an analysis of the Romney-Ryan plan, since details of that plan are not available.
The study was performed assuming implementation in 2010, the last year from which they say full premium information is available. It does not make any assumptions about the potential effect of changes in health care or insurance premium rates over the next ten years, the time when a proposed premium support system, if adopted, would be implemented. It also does not look at the impact of possible changes in benefits, cost sharing or supplemental insurance.
When stating rates of increase in out-of-pocket expenses, the study predicts on average, 59 percent of seniors will pay more. This could drop to 35% depending on policy selection. Those who stay with traditional Medicare will experience an increase of 53% or $60 per month. Those using private plans (Medicare Advantage) will have their out of pocket costs soar by 88% or $87 per month. The report goes on to state that geography will play a significant role. Only 2% of seniors living in Alaska or Washington, D.C., will have an increase while 90% of seniors living in Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts or New Jersey will have to pay more.
Why was this report released three weeks before the election? Premium support systems are a campaign issue. Why did the Kaiser Foundation consider it critical to release a report benefiting either side of the issue? Even if a premium support system is passed into law, why not wait until details of a proposed plan are known to issue an unbiased evaluation?
The Kaiser Family Foundation has a reputation of being unbiased. With the release of this report, I cannot help but think they have tarnished this reputation.