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Medicare better than private insurance

Posted by medconsumers on July 23, 2012

Count me in with the people who think expanding Medicare access to include younger Americans is the most logical way to improve access to medical care.  Now there is some ammunition for this rational, but still politically untenable, way to go.  A new survey shows that people on Medicare are more satisfied with their care than people with private, employer-sponsored insurance.  What’s more, Medicare enrollees are more satisfied than their counterparts enrolled in the Medicare Advantage plan, a heavily subsidized, Bush-era giant step toward privatizing traditional Medicare.

Earlier studies found traditional Medicare delivers with lower administration costs than private health plans and Medicare Advantage.  Now we have a new survey, the first to look solely at consumer satisfaction: Traditional Medicare comes out on top by all measures.  It was published in the current issue of the journal Health Affairs.

Here are the results of the Commonwealth Fund 2010 nationwide telephone survey that included 3,033 adults under the age of 65 and 940 adults age 65 and older:

“Eight percent of Medicare beneficiaries rated their insurance as fair or poor compared to 20 percent of nonelderly adults with employer insurance and 33 percent purchasing insurance on the individual market. Among Medicare beneficiaries, only 6 percent of those with traditional Medicare gave a fair or poor rating, compared to 15 percent of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.

Thirty-seven percent of working adults with employer-sponsored coverage reported at least one access problem due to cost, compared to 23 percent of elderly adults with Medicare. Among Medicare beneficiaries, those with traditional plans were significantly less likely to report problems accessing care than those opting for Medicare Advantage (23 percent versus 32 percent).

Within the subset of beneficiaries who are age sixty-five or older, those enrolled in the private Medicare Advantage program were less likely than those in traditional Medicare to have premiums and out-of-pocket costs exceed 10 percent of their income. But they were also more likely than those in traditional Medicare to rate their insurance poorly and to report cost-related access problems.”

These findings are reported by a team of Commonwealth Fund researchers led by Karen Davis, PhD, President of this foundation that describes itself as “A private foundation working towards high performance health system.” The Fund has long ago taken a position of favor of the Affordable Care Act.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Davis was asked for the implications of her survey should the Republicans take over the government next year and put into effect Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R, Wis) health plan that relies largely on vouchers.  “The voucher plan would eliminate traditional Medicare for the people who are [now] under age 55,” she answered. “They will have to buy private insurance and our study shows that they will get care that is less desirable, less affordable care, and they will experience more access problems due to cost than today’s Medicare beneficiaries.”

President Obama, on the other hand, plans to keep Medicare intact and has said repeatedly, “If you are happy with your insurance plan, you can keep it.”  When Dr. Davis was asked for the implications of her survey should the Affordable Care Act be allowed to continue full steam ahead. “Many more people will have access to affordable, private insurance that will be set up by the states as health insurance exchanges,” she explained, “and there will be fewer hassles with insurance companies. President Obama’s plan has the advantage of allowing people to keep their insurance to old age without worry about losing their jobs and their insurance along with it.”

Additional information 

-For more about the Affordable Care Act and state-run insurance exchanges, click here

-The Commonwealth Fund maintains a state-by-state chart showing the status of health insurance exchanges, where low- and middle-income people and small business can buy subsidized private insure from competing carriers.  They are expected to become fully operational by 2014.Two states have already established health insurance exchanges prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Several Republican governors have announced they will not set up an exchange, thus leaving it to the federal government. To see what’s happening (or not happening) in your state, click here.

-For critiques of the Medicare Advantage plans, click here  and  click here.

Maryann Napoli, Center for Medical Consumers©

8 Responses to “Medicare better than private insurance”

  1. Thomas Janzen said

    I resisted buying a Medicare Advantage policy for several years on principle and because I read many complaints about trouble finding a medical professional who would accept it. I finally succumbed last fall as the cost savings was too good to pass up (subsidized by us taxpayers, of course). I’ve been very happy with the savings but it really IS a chore to carefully monitor which doctors/specialists and medical institutions are “in-network.” Any mistake can be quite costly.

    But either traditional Medicare or MA is a real benefit for retirees who have limited income.

  2. Rudy said

    This is a useful comparison, thank you Medconsumers!

  3. A doctor who accepts ANY federal benefits ( that’s all of us) should be,by law, mandated to accept Medicare. Those who don’t are hippocratic hippocrites.

    • John Frykman said

      So you believe that doctors should be forced to serve patients whose reimbursements are less than the cost to provide those services? Who, then, will make up for those losses? Or perhaps you’d like doctors not to worry about things like paying their bills? Do you think young people will choose to go into a profession that costs literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and an average of 7 post grad years of education and then take a vow of poverty once he finally enters practice? Would you do this? If not, then YOU are a (sic) hippocrite. (I know big words are hard to spell)

      • nik said

        Boo hoo. You’re supposed to go into the profession to help people not be rich, otherwise go into merchant banking.
        You don’t have to use the slippery slope arguement of going into “poverty”. No need to be so dramatic. No one has ever put the words “doctor” and “poverty” in the same paragraph before.
        I really hate that doctors mention how much study they do. No one twisted their arm to study. I have done 7 years post school education to to work in the media industry where I was very poorly paid. My choice, so I don’t complain.
        I’ve now decided to change careers and am doing a medical science degree as well as a psychology degree(simultaneously) -3 years and 6 years respectively. Again my choice – if I don’t become rich, well that wasn’t my aim when I decided to study for these degrees. All doctors do is whine about money. Get your priorities right.

  4. Jean Ryan said

    What bothers me about Medicare is that in NYC, many excellent doctors do not take Medicare or only take a few patients on it. Of course, some of them don’t take traditional insurance either so they can maximize their income. So institutions like the Hospital for Special Surgery are out-of-reach for many people. That hospital spends a great deal on advertising.The way I see it, the doctors are skimming for the most wealthy or desperate patients.

    Also, I saw a national survey recently (can’t remember the details of where it was published) that many people who are on Medicare do not realize it is a government benefit. If they did, fewer people would be willing to radically change it or demolish it. As someone who is a senior on Medicare and an officer of a disability rights organization, I heartily endorse the idea of Medicare for younger people as well as expanding the state programs to reduce drug prescription expenses to younger people. I think that Part D should be mandatory for everyone who has Medicare. People still think that nothing bad will ever happen to them.

    • John Frykman said

      I do not believe “many” Medicare benificiaries don’t know it is a government “benefit.” (I don’t know about you, but I contributed to Medicare over 40 years before I got a dime of benefits–paid taxes on those contributions, too!)

      There are no government paid benefits. The only money government has to “give” you was taken from someone else who actually earned the money. Just sayin’

      • steven kussin said

        John, first let me say that if you can’t understand the literary technique of making a point like, “Hippocratic hippocracy”, then how you got your MD ia a question worth asking. Second, I am an active doctor. I always took Medicare and even the real money loser, Medicaid. I never had a worry about going broke. There will always be enough people whose care will defray your losses when taking care of your neighbors who need your help. The average MD income is high enough to elicit nothing but anger at such silly self pity. No one, NO ONE buys your argument any longer about suffering doctors. And the way things are going, you better get used to the idea that health care is not a privilege. It’s a right. And if your income suffers..tough.

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