By Denny (Mark) Weinberg
… like liberty and justice, Medicare is imagined by some to be All-American. But is it? Can it be? Should it be?
A Historical Perspective:
In 1965, the first year of Medicare, nearly 19 Million Americans enrolled, 56% of whom were previously uninsured according to a Kennedy-era study. It was a simple program back then, providing only acute hospital and physician coverage for Americans over age 65. It was the only real health insurance option for people over age 65, virtually all of whom retired by that age back then.
Today, an estimated 63 Mil or 18% of the US population are eligible for Medicare. And after decades of major program changes, the 2018 program covers more than just older Americans, and Medicare coverage is more complex and broader than the original program. Like the original program (Traditional Medicare), the coverage still has substantial patient exposures for deductibles, co-payments and lifetime / per-incident limits. And, despite popular folklore, it is far more expensive due to the same pressures that impact coverage for the rest of us.
Along the way, other alternative or complementary coverage have emerged. No surprise, this dynamic reflects in part, the vastly different nature and demands of American consumers including older American consumers. These newer coverage sources include private insurers, employers, unions, states, municipalities and school districts as well as expanded overages for the poor (including the older poor).
Does Medicare ALONE Work For Those That Have Access Today?
- 38 Mil, or only 60% of those eligible are enrolled in Traditional Medicare. But because of indexing coverage limitations, only 19% of these Traditional Program participants do not have some form of supplemental or alternative coverage.
- Another 9 Mil are over 65 but still working, and only because of their employer wrap-around coverage, Medicare is workable.
- Another 21 Mil are enrolled in Private Alternatives to Medicare called Advantage Plans after opting out of Traditional Medicare. In 2018 there were 2,317 such Medicare Advantage plans available nationwide allowing the average beneficiary to choose among 21, an increase from 19 in 2017. This is anything but single-payer and becoming less single-payer-like each year due to natural market dynamics.
- Finally, 12 Mil of all of these are also enrolled in Medicaid (dual eligible), due to low income, disability, etc. Most are part of the 38 Mil people with Traditional Medicare, but only because of the Medicaid program, their Medicare is coverage and price affordable and/or relevant.
What Does This Say About Medicare For All?
Nearly 1/2 of all who are offered Medicare today choose a private market alternative, or can only make it work due to other private market wraparound safety nets. So why do we think Medicare will be attractive to the rest of the population without similar private market protections?