Medicare beats private insurers at better access to care

Private insurance companies can't compete with Medicare when it comes to pleasing their members, including access to quality and affordable healthcare, according to a survey published Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs.

"The evidence reported here … 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 Commonwealth Fund study states.

Only 8 percent of Medicare members considered their coverage "fair" or "poor," whereas 20 percent of people with employer-based health plans rated their insurance with such average and low marks. Thirty-three percent of people with individual coverage also reported being unhappy with their plan, according to the Los Angeles Times.

What's more, Medicare members reported better healthcare access and fewer problems paying medical bills or accessing care because of cost. Almost 40 percent of adults with private plans reported at least one problem accessing care due to cost, compared to 23 percent of adults with Medicare. Twenty-seven percent of people with private plans reported difficulties paying bills, whereas only 13 percent of Medicare beneficiaries had similar problems, the Health Affairs blog reported.

These survey findings raise policy implications as lawmakers consider whether to privatize Medicare. "The survey results suggest that simply shifting more beneficiaries into private plans could leave them at increased risk for negative insurance experiences, problems obtaining needed care and difficulties with medical bills," the authors wrote.

"There are a lot of myths out there," Karen Davis, lead author and Commonwealth Fund president, told the LA Times. "It is important to remember how well Medicare performs."

To learn more:
- read the Health Affairs survey
- see the Health Affairs blog post
- check out the Los Angles Times article