This past October, all Medicare-eligible seniors in Baltimore City and Calvert County, Maryland received a letter from Johns Hopkins letting them know their Advantage MD Medicare plan would be terminated, effective January 1, 2022. Nearly 6,000 seniors will lose coverage. Advantage MD is a health insurance plan that provides Medicare benefits through the nonprofit corporation Johns Hopkins Healthcare LLC. Those having their benefits terminated will lose access to reduced prices for prescriptions, better copays, and access to vision and dental benefits. But worst of all, those facing termination may experience a lapse in coverage and a potential to lose their doctors they have been working with for years. It’s up to them to secure new coverage by December 31. Consider the life-or-death consequences of a senior, possibly missing chemotherapy treatment or having to switch doctors in the middle of a treatment or Medicare recipients having to choose which lifesaving medicine to take because of a loss of benefits.
Johns Hopkins is one of several insurance companies either partially or entirely dropping Medicare services in Maryland, including Cigna, Medstar Health, and the University of Maryland. In total, these plans have dropped 41,000 beneficiaries. So there are few options for those Hopkins is dropping. It is particularly abysmal that Johns Hopkins is dropping services in Baltimore City, the majority-Black city that its medical system and university call home.
This trend is happening because Medicare insurance providers are choosing to drop their services in counties where health risk is higher. So, impoverished cities like Baltimore and rural areas are hard hit by these policies. Hopkins officials say they are doing this because insurance providers receive 5-10% less federal funding in Maryland than the rest of the country. In turn, Marylanders have a 13% enrollment rate in Medicare Advantage programs compared to the 41% national average enrollment rate. It is painfully clear that insurance companies are happy to put their profits before the community’s healthcare needs – even in the middle of a pandemic. As long as profit controls the healthcare industry, threats to our lives like this will continue.