Obamacare Medicare fallout: UnitedHealth cuts doctors, rations care

Medicare Advantage destruction proceeding according to plan. Photo: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2013 – The unfolding Obamacare disaster is proving to be a fast-moving target. Even as an armada of techies and programmers attempt to make the disastrously constructed healthcare.gov site functional, security worries grow as they were never adequately addressed or approached in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, the pincer movement on the average consumer continues as insurance carriers continue to drop “grandfathered” policies by the bucket load.

Now, the disaster tsunami is engulfing Medicare-covered individuals as Obamacare’s latest scam—long concealed—begins to reveal itself as evidenced by a shocking announcement from health giant UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth, AARP’s pet private health insurance carrier, has been busy cutting thousands of doctors from certain of its networks according to a Wall Street Journal report published on November 15.

Pennsylvania couple get cancellation letter and worry about their healthcare coverage. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Local newspapers have been weighing in on the story as well. 

  • The Akron Beacon-Journal: “One of the largest Medicare managed-care insurers in Ohio has been dropping doctors from plans that cover thousands of area seniors.” 
  • The Hartford Courant: “Two state medical societies will seek a temporary restraining order against UnitedhealthCare from dropping more than 2,000 doctors from its Medicare Advantage network next year, their attorney said.”
  • The New Jersey Star Ledger: “The Medical Society of New Jersey, a physician association, doesn’t have a count of how may have been terminated but estimated the decision affects at least hundreds of doctors and potentially thousands of patients when the contracts end in February. The physician groups are trying to get the word out now because Medicare’s open enrollment period ends Dec. 7, and United has not yet informed its customers their doctors won’t be available, the Medical Society’s Chief Counsel Melinda Martinson said.”
  • Ft. Myers, Florida News-Press: “A Medicare Advantage plan that covers 35,000 beneficiaries in Southwest Florida is dropping at least 300 doctors and hard-to-find medical specialists from its Southwest Florida network, a move that beneficiaries and affected physicians say may make it difficult to find needed medical providers.” 

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Other carriers will likely follow UnitedHealth’s lead. The ripple effect will inevitably lead to healthcare rationing under Medicare, as more and more patients will need to queue up for appointments with fewer and fewer doctors and even fewer specialists. Welcome to the beginning of socialist healthcare rationing, European-style.

The UnitedHealth physician cuts: ACA’s Medicare connection

In the current case in question, United is making doctor cuts in its Medicare Advantage plans beginning in 2014. This is creating panic among untold numbers of elderly Medicare recipients who must now scramble quickly to see if they can find another plan that will include their longtime family doctors before the annual enrollment deadline window closes.

According to WSJ, United says that “underfunding” of its Medicare Advantage plans couldn’t be completely offset by premium charges derived from the company’s other healthcare lines.

SEE RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Obamacare state enrollment Magical Mystery Tour

Athena Ford, left, with Pennsylvania Health Access Network, and Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., take part in a federal health care law informational town hall in Pottsville, Pa. The meeting was held in the wake of an uproar over its website woes and insurers discontinuing plans. He acknowledged that President Barack Obama should not have said that the law would allow everybody to keep their health insurance plan, if they wanted to keep it. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

While the tendency of the public and the press will be to attack UnitedHealth for its “heartlessness,” the company’s roster trim is a actually a direct consequence of the hydra-headed monster that’s concealed under the benevolent-sounding Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare: the goal of single-payer health coverage.

Recall recent history. Democrats and the White House railed against Republican Paul Ryan’s allegedly outrageous plan to “cut” Medicare benefits during the 2012 Presidential election campaign. But what they and the compliant media conveniently failed to mention was that ACA had, in fact, already lined up substantial Medicare cuts as part of the way the legislation intended to fund America’s foray into socialized medicine.

Democrats of all stripes then turned around and falsely blamed Paul Ryan for the cuts they had already signed into law via the ACA.

It was easy to conceal and lie about these cuts because both the cuts and their implementation were conveniently delayed until after the Presidential election. But now, with UnitedHealth’s announcement of physician cuts, and with the certainty that other Medicare Advantage carriers will follow suit, another part of ACA’s inherent duplicity is coming to the fore. The WSJ aside, however, much of this news will never make it to the front page.

Intermission feature: The three routes to Medicare coverage

For those not familiar with Medicare’s current layout, here’s how it works.

When an individual reaches his or her 65th birthday, he or she becomes eligible for Medicare coverage. That’s the government-provided, subsidized healthcare coverage for seniors originally established under the Johnson Administration and funded, at least in part, by those slowly-increasing FICA deductions that come out of every American worker’s regular paychecks.

Medicare for many, particularly those on a fixed income, is health insurance that’s blessedly cheap, at least on the surface. The straight government plan costs the average recipient a mere $104 per month, at least at present.

However, there are notable gaps in basic Medicare coverage, otherwise known as Medicare Parts A and B. One of these gaps was covered by the Bush Administration’s quasi-private prescription drug plan, available now at additional cost and dubbed Medicare part D.

Yet even with Part D coverage added to basic Medicare, significant coverage gaps remain, which is where the private sector becomes involved.

To fill in many of these gaps, private insurers have long offered what are called Medicare Supplement plans. Available at an additional, generally reasonable cost, Medicare Supplement plans, when wrapped around Medicare Parts A, B, and sometimes D, fill enough coverage gaps to make the whole package similar to the kind of health insurance coverage the average American had under his or her company’s policy while still holding down that nine-to-five job.

For those Americans willing and able to kick even this kind of coverage up a notch, insurers offer “Medicare Advantage” plans. More expensive than Medicare Supplement plans, Medicare Advantage plans offer more complete benefits and the widest range of physicians and coverages possible under Medicare, with the private portion of the plan underwriting the difference.

The ominous Medicare-ObamaCare tie-in

Medicare Advantage plans have become widely popular, particularly among middle class retirees who can afford the extra premiums. And it is these plans that are, or will shortly be, under indirect but significant attack by the ripple effect of Obamacare, yet another proof that you can’t keep your current coverage and doctor if you like them.

UnitedHealth’s Medicare Advantage doctor cuts are the latest shoe to drop in America’s ongoing healthcare tragedy. They are now occurring in addition to the massive, ongoing private health insurance policy cancellations that are a direct result of ACA’s rules and intentions.

All these cuts and cancellations may or may not be an unstoppable tide as healthcare rationing under ObamaCare morphs into stark reality, the President’s likely illegal Friday pronouncements notwithstanding.

Under ACA, the government is significantly cutting physician remuneration under Medicare to the point where full-coverage style Medicare Advantage plans must begin to drastically trim expenses to maintain any semblance of profitability.

Hence, UnitedHealth’s roster trim is likely just the initial salvo in what will become a protracted battle. But the interesting question is, why fight it? Its outcome has already been pre-determined by ACA’s the Administration’s not-so-secret agenda for transforming Obamacare into a single-payer plan while cutting private insurers out of the loop entirely.

The slow, intentional strangulation of private health insurance coverage

By slowly but inexorably cutting reimbursements under Medicare Advantage policies, the government will drive further physician and coverage cuts. Inevitably, private insurers, one by one, will terminate Medicare Advantage coverage until it becomes nonexistent. Keeping up with this python-like squeeze, Medicare Supplement policies will be next on the list for elimination. All is actually going according to plan.

Longtime U.S. Representative Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is having a hard time explaining to constituents just why their healthcare coverage is being threatened by ObamaCare. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Parallel pressures will gradually be applied to the new Obamacare policies being administered by private insurers that will eventually make it impossible for them to generate any profit as well. We’ve already gotten some idea as to how this will work with the millions of private healthcare policy cancellations that dominated last week’s news cycle.

Yet no matter how this current hit is deflected, the central idea underpinning ObamaCare is the left’s stated intention to gradually drive all the private carriers out of the healthcare business entirely, leaving the U.S. government as the no-choice, single-payer carrier.

If this all seems underhanded and Byzantine, it is, and intentionally so. Neither the White House, nor the Democrats, or the lapdog media, nor AARP for that matter—always a big Obamacare supporter—wanted you to know about any of this until President Obama won his second term and until Democrats were assured of their continued domination of the Senate.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan knew about all this in 2012 and said so, but no one would report on the facts and no one would listen. In early fall, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee tried to stop the ACA juggernaut again. The Democrats, the White House, the compliant media, and even their own party shellacked them as bad or worse than Romney-Ryan were shelled in 2012. Who are the liars and alarmists now?

The UnitedHealth physician trim is the canary in the stygian coalmine that is Obamacare—as if we needed another canary to succumb to this rolling disaster.

Medicare Advantage will gradually become the first private coverage domino to fall. Medicare Supplement policies and private healthcare policies as we know them will eventually succumb as well. The end result: the Federal government—those brilliant elitists and intellectuals who brought you that perfectly-functioning healthcare.gov website and allowed you to keep that health insurance policy you liked—fully in charge of your healthcare coverage.

It’s all a little bit like “Nightmare on Elm Street.” No matter what you do, no matter how hard you fight, that monster keeps showing up in your house to finish you off.

But not to worry. With the Federal government eventually running all healthcare coverage and fully one-sixth of the nation’s economy to boot, we’ll all be in the best of hands. And, like Winston Smith in “1984,” we’ll all learn to love Big Brother.

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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