Obama Administration backs off cuts to Medicare Advantage

Under fire in both parties, the Obama Administration on Monday reversed plans for cuts to the Medicare Advantage program, a move that was quickly denounced by Republicans as nothing more than an effort to preserve Democratic seats in Congress in 2014.

"I’m glad the Administration listened to our calls to stop cuts to the Medicare Advantage program," said freshmen Rep. Avi Bera (D-CA).

"This step will protect seniors from significant increases in costs or cuts in benefits, and ensure this critical program is there for the people who need it," Bera added.

"Today's announcement from CMS doesn't change the fact that ObamaCare still cuts the Medicare Advantage program that our seniors rely on," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX).

The decision also won praise from health advocacy groups, some of which had rallied lawmakers in both parties in a very public campaign against the Medicare Advantage cuts.

"In recent weeks, tens of thousands of seniors, a majority of the U.S. Congress, and more than 170 stakeholder organizations raised concerns about the harmful impact proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage would have on the more than 15 million beneficiaries in the program," said Karen Ignagni, head of the group America's Health Insurance Plans, which led a bipartisan fight against the cuts.

While Republicans had dominated early complaints about Medicare Advantage, they were joined in recent weeks by a number of Democrats in the Congress, as they argued the cuts would undercut Medicare Advantage, a popular plan that runs alongside Medicare, but often includes extra benefits.

If you had no idea about the underlying arguments on Medicare Advantage, it would have been hard to figure out anything was amiss, given the title of the press release on the issue, "CMS Ensures Higher Value and Quality for Medicare Health and Drug Plans," which was issued on Monday.

"CMS intends to again use its authority, provided by the health care law, to protect Medicare Advantage enrollees from significant increases in costs or cuts in benefits," the release said, not really mentioning how the feds had floated a 1.9 percent cut in Medicare Advantage spending - instead, the new plan will increase it by 0.4 percent.

Democrats had grown more and more vocal in recent weeks in opposition to the planned cuts in Medicare Advantage, which many Republicans have long resented as an attack on a free market, alternative version of Medicare - something they felt Democrats were trying to squash with the Obama health law, a charge the Obama Administration has long denied.

"We have called on the president and his Cabinet to develop a plan to help American seniors deal with the consequences, both now and in the future, of this destructive law," said House Speaker John Boehner after the Medicare Advantage announcement.

"Thus far we've seen no such plan," Boehner added.