Benefit Bulletin: February 2015

Benefit Bulletin: February 2015

Reforming Medicare: How Can We Keep It Affordable?

Congress has debated a number of proposals that would shift a greater share of Medicare's costs to beneficiaries in recent years. Some of those proposals are likely to get more scrutiny again this year. But as currently designed, a good deal of Medicare costs remain uncovered as it is, leaving sick beneficiaries on the hook for thousands of dollars every year.

How well does Medicare compare with health coverage of older adults in other industrialized nations? Americans 65 and older are more likely to have difficulty affording care, and more likely to have chronic illnesses than seniors in other nations, according to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund. The study surveyed 11 industrialized countries. Among the findings:

  • 19% of older Americans report skipping needed medical care due to costs, versus 6% of seniors in 11 other industrialized countries.
  • Beneficiaries with traditional Medicare end up spending more than $4,000 per year on out-of-pocket healthcare costs. That level is much higher than that seen in comparable nations.
  • 11% of older Americans report having difficulty paying medical bills, versus 3% in the other 11 countries.
  • 86% of U.S. respondents reported having two or more chronic conditions, compared to an average of 60% among the other nations.

Because of low growth in Social Security benefits in recent years, people over 65 pay out a growing share of their Social Security to cover Medicare costs. According to TSCL's 2014 Senior Survey, 58% of Social Security recipients say Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs take up to one-third of their Social Security benefits. Eighteen percent reported that costs took up to half of their benefits.

TSCL opposes proposals that would make people with Medicare pay more and encourages Members of Congress to make cracking down on Medicare fraud, waste and abuse a key issue instead. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that Medicare issued $45.8 billion in improper payments during the 2014 fiscal year that ended September 30, 2014. That represented nearly 13% of total program spending.

We encourage you to contact your Representative and Senators. Let them know that you want them to crack down on Medicare fraud and waste and to keep their hands off your Medicare benefits. Send an email to your Members of Congress at


Sources: "Study: American Seniors Face Health Care Gaps, Despite Medicare," Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News, November 19, 2014. "Older Americans Report More Difficulty Affording Care Than Seniors In Comparable Countries," Cynthia Cox, Kaiser Family Foundation, December 13, 2014.