WASHINGTON - Private health insurance companies that offer alternative Medicare coverage funnel billions of dollars toward company profits, and to marketing and advertising rather than to patient care, U.S. Democrats charged in a report released on Wednesday.

A number of insurers, including Humana Inc and UnitedHealth Group Inc, offer such plans known as Medicare Advantage as an alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare coverage for the elderly and disabled.

The report comes as lawmakers push forward on legislation to overhaul the nation's healthcare system, including cuts to Medicare Advantage and other industry reforms. The House, which passed its version of the bill in early November, is awaiting a final plan from the Senate before a bill can be sent to the White House.

From 2005 to 2008, Medicare Advantage insurers devoted $27 billion to profits, marketing and other expenses, according to the report released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which looked at 34 such insurers.

Democrats posted the report on their website at www.energycommerce.house.gov.

Representatives for the health insurance industry's lobby group, America's Health Insurance Plans, had no immediate comment.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, editing by Matthew Lewis)