By Christine Maroulis
Arizona has become one of the most popular destinations for seniors to spend their golden years — a trend that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated. Last year, nearly 56,000 seniors chose to move to the Grand Canyon State, where seniors make up nearly 36 percent of residents.
With an increasingly older population that has significantly more health care challenges, it has never been more important to shore up our health care system and make sure Arizonans can continue to access affordable, comprehensive, and preventative care. That is the best way to ensure we keep as many seniors healthy (and out of the hospital) — and that our health care system stays strong.
That is why I strongly support the popular and effective Medicare Advantage program, which plays a vital role in connecting some of Arizona’s most at-risk patient populations with the unique benefits and supplemental services that help them stay healthier and more active. In doing so, Medicare Advantage helps ease the burden on our state’s hospitals and health care providers, benefiting everyone in our communities.
Given the value Medicare Advantage adds to the lives of nearly 630,000 Arizonans — and the important role it plays in stabilizing our health system — I was pleased to recently participate in a roundtable discussion held by the Better Medicare Alliance along with Becky Daggett, the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries as well as other community and health care leaders, to discuss the importance of protecting this program. We were also honored to have Representative Tom O’Halleran join us as our guest to provide his perspective as a policymaker and supporter of Medicare Advantage.
The timing for our discussion with Rep. O’Halleran couldn’t have been better as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently made their 2023 rate announcement for Medicare Advantage and other CMS programs. Our organization and other Better Medicare Alliance members were heartened to see CMS commit to reimbursement rates in Medicare Advantage that would help keep the program stable and strong over the long-term while putting a strong focus on advancing health equity.
Nationwide, more than 28 million seniors and individuals with disabilities rely on the comprehensive health care benefits they access through Medicare Advantage. That includes more flexible vision, dental, and prescription drug coverage as well as more outside-of-the-box offerings, like transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, meal delivery, in-home support, as well as preventative and wellness programs.
The program continues to grow year over year because it is improving the lives of seniors and those with disabilities while actually lowering their out-of-pocket costs and reducing the strain on our overall health care system. With a focus on preventative health and wellness in addition to diagnostic care, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries experience 33 percent fewer emergency room visits than their FFS counterparts.
In a time when health care resources are stretched to their max, Medicare Advantage helps alleviate some of the burden being placed on our nation’s hospitals and health care providers while delivering better, more comprehensive care for those who need it most, especially in our state which is home to so many vulnerable and traditionally underserved patient populations. Moving forward, keeping this program strong and stable should be top priority for legislators and policymakers from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. I was glad to see the CMS keep rates stable to ensure Medicare Advantage can continue to serve its vital role in keeping Arizona seniors healthy and our health care system strong. The increasing number of seniors moving to Arizona can rest easy knowing they have a champion in Representative O’Halleran. He should keep fighting for smart health care solutions that serve Arizona’s seniors and individuals with disabilities.