In his Joint Session speech President Obama promised that no one on Medicare would be forced to lose the coverage they have now.
But others, like Florida Democrat Senator Bill Nelson, worry that Obama's reforms will deny seniors coverage they now rely on.
When I asked him about Nelson's fear, Obama disagreed, but he didn't rule out endorsing Nelson's effort to shield current Medicare beneficiaries from the cuts.
Here's our exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's go to Medicare then…
STEPHANOPOULOS: …because you also said that no one will lose what they have. And Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, says that the cuts you're looking at in Medi — the Medicare Advantage program…
STEPHANOPOULOS: …are going to force people to lose coverage they now have.
OBAMA: No. Here — here's what's going to happen. These are essentially private HMOs who are getting, on average — and this is not my estimate, this is Democrats and Republicans, experts have said — they're getting, on average, about 14 percent more over payments, basically subsidies from taxpayers for a program that ordinary Medicare does just as good, if not better, at keeping people healthy.
Now, they package these things in ways that, in some cases, may make it more convenient for some consumers, but they're overcharging massively for it. There's no competitive bidding under the process.
And so what we've said is instead of spending $17 billion, $18 billion a year, $177 billion over 10 years on that, why wouldn’t we use that to close the donut hole so the people are actually getting better prescription drugs…
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator Nelson says it’s going to…
OBAMA: …Why don't we make sure that we're using some of that money to actually make people healthier?
STEPHANOPOULOS: But he said it's going to cause beneficiaries right now to lose what they have.
OBAMA: Look, I understand that change is hard. If what you're saying is that people who are currently signed up for Medicare advantage are going to have Medicare and the same level of benefits, but they may not be having their insurer get a 14 percent premium, that's absolutely true and will the insurers squawk? You bet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They may drop the coverage.
OBAMA: No, these folks are going to be able to get Medicare that is just as good, provides the same benefits, but we're not subsidizing them for $18 billion a year.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So Senator Nelson, he wants to pass an amendment that shields anyone currently on Medicare advantage from any cuts. Do you support that?
OBAMA: George, I'm not going to be negotiating a particular provision of the bill, sitting (ph) down with you here right now. What I am going to say is this: the basic principle that is indisputable is that we are wasting hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare that is not making people healthier. I want to make sure that we're using that money to actually make people healthier.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if people lose their Medicare advantage?
OBAMA: What I have said is we're not going to take a dollar out of the Medicare trust fund. We're going to make sure that benefits are just as strong if not stronger. We're not going to subsidize insurance companies in ways that end up creating a situation that Medicare is actually weaker and has a less financial foundation, because right now, we've got eight years from now potentially Medicare going into the red.
Watch it HERE.
- George Stephanopoulos