Medicare Advantage premiums dip, enrollment rising

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR | September 15, 2011 | 11:20 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Officials say premiums will drop next year for popular Medicare Advantage insurance plans, while enrollment is on the rise.

That's welcome news for President Barack Obama and Democrats who are struggling with older voters ahead of the 2012 elections.

Medicare Advantage offers private plans, often with lower co-payments than traditional Medicare. Republicans accuse Obama of undermining the program to pay for his health care law.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday that it's never been healthier.

Premiums for 2012 will average 4 percent less than this year, while enrollment is projected to jump by 10 percent.

Cuts to Medicare Advantage were staggered to begin with, and administration officials have worked to soften the impact. The insurance industry says the reckoning will come sooner or later.