By Mary Agnes Carey
Fri, Sep 20 2013
Nearly 50 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. The 2010 health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, will make some changes to the program. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about Medicare and the health law.
Q: The health law creates something called a health insurance marketplace. What is that and can I apply for coverage on an exchange?
A: There is no need for you to enroll in the health law's exchanges. It's an online marketplace where individuals and small employers without group coverage will be able to shop for insurance coverage. Enrollment begins Oct. 1 for policies that will go into effect on Jan. 1.
Medicare is not part of the health insurance exchanges. Seniors will still get health coverage through Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program or Medicare Advantage plans, private health insurance plans that are approved by Medicare. Those who are enrolled in Medicare Part A, which covers hospital care, or the Advantage plans will meet the health law’s mandate for individuals to have insurance.
Q: Does the health care law offer any new benefits for Medicare beneficiaries?
A: Beneficiaries receive more preventative care services – including a yearly "wellness" visit, mammograms, colorectal screening, and more savings on prescription drug coverage. By 2020, the law will close the Medicare gap in prescription drug coverage, known as the "doughnut hole." Seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of their prescription drug costs.
Q: Does the law cut spending on Medicare?
A: Medicare spending will continue to expand as increasing numbers of baby boomers reach 65. However, the law does cut the expected growth of Medicare spending by about $716 billion over the next decade.
Those cuts are made by lowering reimbursements to nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies and other providers. It also cuts payments to Medicare Advantage plans to bring those payments closer to what Medicare pays for care for beneficiaries enrolled in the traditional fee-for-service plan. Medicare officials stress that the spending changes will not reduce Medicare benefits.