Ady Barkan

Healthcare activist Ady Barkan raises his fist.

(Photo: Ady Barkan/Facebook)

Ady Barkan’s Legacy: Reclaiming Medicare From For-Profit Corporations

Ady recognized that so-called “Medicare Advantage” plans threaten our cherished public benefit.

Ady Barkan, my dear friend and former colleague, spent the last years of his life fighting to give everyone in America the right to high-quality healthcare. He knew that he was dying, and used his own story to shine a light on why “the richest country in the history of the world” could figure out how to provide it. He evangelized the virtues of Medicare For All, yet came to understand that a powerful force stood in the way: So-called “Medicare Advantage” (MA) plans. These plans are not Medicare. They are privatized alternatives run by for-profit insurance corporations.

As Ady wrote a little over a year ago, these privatized plans threaten our cherished public benefit of Medicare. They siphon up our public dollars, overcharging the government to the tune of billions a year. Then, they delay and deny the care the patients need. Their goal is to generate profit by charging as much as possible to provide as little healthcare as possible.

The government allows privatized plans to offer benefits Traditional Medicare is barred from covering, including dental, vision, hearing, and an out-of-pocket cap. This makes them an attractive option, particularly to younger and healthier patients. It is only once people get sick, and need to use their coverage, they realize these plans are a scam.

The government needs to hold these plans accountable for their greed, not give them a raise.

With Traditional Medicare, you can use the doctor and hospital of your choice, and they provide the care that you need. Medicare Advantage restricts your choice of doctors and hospitals, as well as what type of care they can provide. These might seem like minor nuisances when you’re relatively healthy, but can mean the difference between life and death when you’re sick.

That’s not an exaggeration. A recent study found that Medicare Advantage patients are 1.5 times more likely to die in the month after complex cancer surgery than Traditional Medicare patients. Another study found that if the government canceled contracts with the worst performing 5% of MA plans, it would save 10,000 lives a year.

Yet despite Medicare Advantage plans providing worse care than Traditional Medicare, they cost the government more money—an average of 6% per patient—despite the fact that Medicare Advantage patients are generally younger and healthier than those with Traditional Medicare. They are overcharging the government by up to $140 billion a year. This is money that comes out of the Medicare trust fund, endangering the future of the entire program. Yet it still isn’t enough for health insurance corporations offering these plans.

The government is proposing a 3.7% increase in payments to Medicare Advantage plans for next year. They plan to finalize that amount at the beginning of April. The health insurance corporations and their lobbyists are pressuring the government to increase that amount. They are even insisting that a 3.7% increase is a cut, just because it’s not as much as they want!

This is outrageous. The government needs to hold these plans accountable for their greed, not give them a raise. Over 25,000 Americans are calling on President Joe Biden to do just that. As their petition says, these plans should be paying us back, not the other way around.

Be A Hero, the organization Ady founded, is one of the organizations at the forefront of this fight. Hundreds of our grassroots supporters have shared their painful stories of being delayed or denied care by faceless, cruel insurance companies. Others reveal feeling tricked or even forced onto a Medicare Advantage plan and then being stuck in the “Hotel California.” Their heartbreaking stories called Ady and now call all of us to take action.

We are joined by doctors, patients and experts from across the country who see the existential threat posed to Medicare by insurance corporations. Reclaiming Medicare from corporate greed is an essential part of Ady’s legacy. It is the only way we can move towards Ady’s vision of Medicare for All—guaranteed high-quality healthcare for everyone.

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