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A screenshot of a draft of the 2019 Medicare & You handbook. Photo: Axios

The Trump administration is promoting policies that are favorable for the health insurance industry and private doctors through a set of new, discreet changes to the annual Medicare handbook.

Why it matters: The handbook will be mailed to 43 million households this September; it is a primary source for people to learn about Medicare. Consumer advocates say the federal government is "distorting and mischaracterizing the facts in serious ways."

What we're seeing: Axios obtained a draft of the 2019 Medicare & You handbook and compared it to this year's version.

A few changes stood out (page numbers reference the 2019 document):

  • Page 6: When comparing traditional Medicare with Medicare Advantage, the program run by private health insurers, the new document eliminates a section on "quality of care" and substitutes "coverage and cost determinations." The section gives the impression that people who want to find out costs of care ahead of time are better off in Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Page 7: Promotion of the Medicare Advantage open enrollment period, a provision built into the 21st Century Cures Act that gives people three months to test-drive a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Page 60: Medicare patients and doctors who decide not to accept Medicare can sign private contracts for services, but those patients could be on the hook for huge charges. The 2019 document adds this sentence about private contracting, a practice Tom Price supported, without acknowledging higher fees or surprise billing: "Private contracts give you and your provider the flexibility to set up your own payment terms that work best for you."
  • Page 62: A new section describes how people in Medicare Advantage plans "have the right to request a preauthorization" for equipment or services, and frames prior authorizations (when the health insurer has to approve care will be covered) as a way to shop.

What they're saying: Three Medicare consumer groups wrote to the federal government to say that describing prior authorizations as benefits "twists the facts beyond recognition."

  • Those groups also criticized the administration for broadly suggesting Medicare Advantage is less expensive than traditional Medicare.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said the agency continues "to modify and improve the content to help consumers make informed health care decisions" and uses feedback from groups "along with multiple rounds of consumer testing to inform the final product."

  • CMS would not say who wrote the new language or whether adjustments would be made before the handbooks go out.

Between the lines: Health insurers and doctors wouldn't mind these changes because they could make their plans and practices sound more appealing to Medicare enrollees — potentially boosting their income.

Go deeper

Educators face fines, harassment over critical race theory

People talk before the start of a rally against critical race theory being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Va. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Elementary school teachers, administrators and college professors are facing fines, physical threats, and fear of firing because of an organized push from the right to remove classroom discussions of systemic racism.

Why it matters: Moves to ban critical race theory are raising free speech concerns amid an absence of consistent parameters about what teachings are in or out of bounds.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

1 dead after pickup truck hits Pride spectators in Florida

Police investigate the scene where a pickup truck drove into a crowd of people at a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Saturday. Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

A driver in a pickup truck hit spectators at a Pride festival in Wilton Manors, Florida, killing a man and leaving another person hospitalized Saturday, authorities said.

Details: Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told reporters police had "apprehended the driver" and that the vehicle missed a parade car carrying Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) "by inches."

Updated 9 hours ago - Sports

Uganda Olympic team member tests positive for COVID in Tokyo

The Uganda National boxing team's Catherine Nanziri (L) and others arrive for check-in at Entebbe international airport in Wakiso, Uganda on Friday, ahead of their departure to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Photo: Badru Katumba/AFP via Getty Images

A Uganda Olympic team member tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Japan late Saturday, officials said.

Why it matters: Japan's government has faced criticism for vowing to host the Tokyo Games next month as coronavirus cases rise. The Ugandan team is the second to arrive in Japan after the Australian women's softball players, and this is the first COVID-19 infection detected among the Olympic athletes, Al Jazeera notes.