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Survey: Medicare patients happier than those with private coverage

July 18, 2012|By Noam N. Levey
  • Only 8% of Medicare beneficiaries 65 or over rated their coverage fair or poor, the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found.
Only 8% of Medicare beneficiaries 65 or over rated their coverage fair or… (David McNew / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON – Elderly Americans on Medicare are substantially happier with their insurance coverage than their younger counterparts who rely on commercial insurance, according to a new national survey.

Only 8% of Medicare beneficiaries 65 or over rated their coverage “fair” or “poor,” the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found.

By comparison, 20% of those with employer-based coverage gave their insurance plan low marks. And 33% of people who bought insurance on their own reported unhappiness with their coverage.

“There are a lot of myths out there,” said Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis, lead author of the report published in the journal Health Affairs. “It is important to remember how well Medicare performs.”

The findings come as Washington policymakers prepare for a renewed debate, likely early next year, over the future of the massive entitlement program that covers about 50 million elderly and disabled Americans.

Republicans, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, want to convert Medicare into a what they call a “premium support” program that gives beneficiaries vouchers to buy a private insurance plan of their choosing.

“Choice and competition remain the only means by which costs can be brought under control without sacrificing quality,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a recent interview with the conservative newspaper Human Events.

Ryan called President Obama’s plan to make the current government-guaranteed program more efficient and to improve the quality of medical care that it pays for “a recipe for government rationing.”

But the Commonwealth Fund survey found that elderly Americans feel they have much better access to medical care through Medicare than do Americans who rely on private coverage.

Those on Medicare are also more likely to rate the quality of their care as excellent and less likely to report problems paying their medical bills or accessing needed care because of cost, though Medicare beneficiaries who are disabled report less satisfaction than elderly beneficiaries.

“The survey results suggest that simply shifting more beneficiaries into private plans could leave them at increased risk for negative insurance experiences, problems obtaining needed care and difficulties with medical bills,” the study’s authors wrote.

The Commonwealth Fund researchers found more mixed results comparing the attitudes of seniors in traditional Medicare with those in Medicare Advantage who have signed up for a private health insurance plan to administer their Medicare benefits.

Only 6% of those in traditional Medicare rated their insurance “fair” or “poor,” while 15% gave their Medicare Advantage plan that assessment.

But more seniors in traditional Medicare – 32% – reported a negative insurance experience, while just 27% of those in a Medicare Advantage plan said they had a negative experience.

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