Study Finds Medicare Superior to Private Insurance and Recommends Expansion to People Under 65

A new Commonwealth Fund study published in the journal Health Affairs concluded with a Medicare-for-All style suggestion: “Given the positive experiences reported by Medicare beneficiaries, policymakers should consider extending traditional Medicare coverage to the nonelderly population…”

The study found evidence that “Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older are more satisfied with their health insurance, have better access to care, and are less likely to have problems paying medical bills than working-age adults who get insurance through employers or purchase coverage on their own.”

“Only 8 percent of Medicare beneficiaries sixty-five or over rated their insurance as fair or poor, compared to 20 percent of those with employer insurance and 33 percent of those who purchased insurance on the individual market.”

The study concluded that the “evidence reported here from surveys now spanning a decade shows that Medicare is doing a better job than employer-sponsored plans at fulfilling the two main purposes of health insurance: ensuring access to care and providing financial protection.”

The researchers analyzed and compared nationally representative health insurance surveys conducted in 2001, 2007 and 2010, with a particular focus on the most recent data.  All surveys showed “that compared to people who are privately insured, Medicare beneficiaries are less likely to have cost-related access problems, high premium and out-of-pocket health care expenses as a share of income, and financial problems because of medical bills.”

“Within Medicare, satisfaction varied depending on whether beneficiaries were enrolled in traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage plans offered by private insurance companies. Fifteen percent of those with Medicare Advantage rated their insurance as fair or poor, compared with 6 percent of those with traditional Medicare.”  Those enrolled in public Medicare also “reported access problems at lower rates than respondents in the Medicare Advantage program: 23 percent compared to 32 percent. This difference is significant. Notably, adults with Medicare Advantage and nonelderly adults with individual or non-group private plans reported similar rates of problems with medical bills and accessing care because of cost.”

This study contributes to the large body of evidence showing that publicly funded health care is vastly superior to all types of private health insurance in meeting people’s needs and realizing their human right to health care. The authors’ recommendation of extending Medicare to the non-elderly population is one of many ways in which policymakers could finally take note of this evidence and begin meeting their human rights obligations.

Download the complete study below.