Medicare does not require seniors to pay enough of their health care costs. Seniors go to the doctor too much. Medicare supplement insurance makes these problems worse and contributes to out-of-control Medicare spending. These are the conclusions in a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Medicare Patients See the Doctor Too Much”.
The authors also say the “Obamacare” changes to Medicare, which provide more free preventive care services to seniors, are bad because they “further insulate seniors from costs and will drive up spending even more”.
According to the authors:
Medicare utilization is roughly 50% higher than private health-insurance utilization, even after adjusting for age and medical conditions. In other words, given two patients with similar health-care needs — one a Medicare beneficiary over age 65, the other an individual under 65 who has private health insurance — the senior will use nearly 50% more care.
In the opinion of the authors, the answer to Medicare’s problems is:
Since private health insurers are much better at controlling utilization and reducing fraud, why not turn to the private sector to resolve Medicare‘s excessive utilization? That’s what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was trying to do with his premium-support model that would eventually shift Medicare beneficiaries into private health plans.
The authors favor more choice for seniors, such as high-deductible health insurance options and plans that are more like those in the under-65 market. But the authors don’t mention that these high-deductible plans are designed for young, healthy people who are betting they won’t get sick and have to pay that $3,000 or $5,000 deductible before their insurance kicks in. That’s probably a good bet for a 30-year old. But what about a 70-year old?
What are the chances a 70-year old will need to spend several thousand dollars on medical services each year? And what are the chances a senior will put off care because he has to pay 100% of the cost until he meets his deductible? Is it a good idea for seniors to put off care because they can’t afford it – or are too cheap to pay co-pays and deductibles? Is this a choice we want seniors to make? And is this good public health policy, or will it lead to sicker seniors and bigger medical bills for seniors and Medicare?
Note: I would have linked to the Wall Street Journal article, but the article is not accessible for free.