As administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure oversees the two largest federal health care programs — Medicare and Medicaid — as well as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). More than 164 million Americans get their health care through one of these initiatives.
In an exclusive interview with AARP, Brooks-LaSure talks about her vision for the future of Medicare, the enhancements to the program’s prescription drug coverage, and the prospects for helping more older adults live out their lives in their own homes and communities. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Two years into the job as CMS administrator, what is your vision for the future of Medicare?
What I hope to continue to see is a real strengthening of both original and Medicare Advantage. And it’s just been such a joy that the president working with Congress was able to pass the prescription drug legislation to really make sure that the program continues to grow and evolve on behalf of all the seniors and people with disabilities who depend on our program.
Given the increasing enrollment in Medicare Advantage, do you expect original Medicare to still be available to beneficiaries in five or 10 years?
I believe it’s critical that people have a choice between traditional original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. The strengthening of the prescription drug benefit, I think, really supports original Medicare. I hope that we continue to get more ability to strengthen the programs through congressional changes. We recently announced our GUIDE [Guiding an Improved Dementia Experience] model, which is focused on people with dementia and really trying to make sure they get all of the supports that they need. And that’s one example of how we at CMS are really working to strengthen traditional Medicare so that it is available for years to come.
One difference between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans is the high level of MA advertising and marketing. You announced plans this year to crack down on misleading ads. Should CMS be more proactive in marketing original Medicare?
This is something that we are actively discussing, about really making sure that we do as much as we can to make sure that people understand what’s available to them under traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage. And we are working hard to make sure that people get what they need, whether they’re calling 1-800-MEDICARE [800-633-4227] or in terms of what they’re seeing during open enrollment, as well as emphasizing all of the other places where people get help: SHIP [State Health Insurance Program] counselors, for example, making sure that they are indeed touting both sides of the house, Medicare and Medicare Advantage. The “Medicare and You” handbook is one of the best ways we are able to educate people about their options.