Medicare is highly popular among retired and disabled beneficiaries. But according to a study of international health systems, older Americans are in worse health and pay more for their healthcare than older folks who live in other wealthy developed countries that have universal healthcare. Researchers at The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that does research comparing the U.S. health system with systems in 10 other countries, have found that the U.S. healthcare system ranks last among the 10 countries studied, the top three of which include the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands. That’s despite the U.S. having the highest per capita health expenditures of any country studied and devoting the bigger percentage of the GDP to healthcare than the 10 other nations.
Our healthcare system is unique among other wealthy nations in that we lack universal health insurance. Medicare is the most popular government- run healthcare system in the U.S. and the closest thing to universal healthcare that we’ve got. But as far as coverage goes, there are substantial out-of-pocket costs that Medicare doesn’t cover.
In addition to Medicare, most people purchase either private supplemental Medigap insurance and a private Part D prescription drug plan, or enroll in a private Medicare Advantage health plan that offers drug coverage. Many of us still pay dental, vision and audio expenses out-of-pocket, or put off care. About one out of five older Americans qualify for Medicaid to help pay for Medicare Part B premiums and out-of-pocket costs. According to The Commonwealth Fund report, such “Incomplete and fragmented insurance coverage may account for the relatively poor performance of the U.S. on health care outcomes, affordability, administrative efficiency, and equity.”
According to the report, the U.S. stands out for having the highest rates of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Some 68% of older adults in the U.S. report having a least two or more chronic conditions. Despite having Medicare coverage, people 65 and older in the U.S. (almost 20%) are more likely to report cost as a barrier to getting care or filling prescriptions.
Clearly, many retirees would agree our U.S. “hybrid” Medicare system of government and private insurance has plenty of room for improvement, like authorizing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and keeping Medicare Part B premium growth in line with annual cost-of-living adjustments.
How you can get involved: Present a “big idea!” Some members of Congress are seeking ideas, comments, and recommendations from their constituents for improving our healthcare system. Put together your best ideas for lowering Medicare costs in a brief one-page letter and share it with your Member of Congress. Then share your idea in a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, or television station.
Sources: “Mirror, Mirror 2017: International Comparison Reflects Flaws and Opportunities for Better U.S. Health Care,” The Commonwealth Fund, 2017.